/ Language: English / Genre:thriller

Alibi

Joseph Kanon


Joseph Kanon

Alibi

CHAPTER ONE

After the war, my mother took a house in Venice. She’d gone first to Paris, hoping to pick up the threads of her old life, but Paris had become grim, grumbling about shortages, even her friends worn and evasive. The city was still at war, this time with itself, and everything she’d come back for-the big flat on the Rue du Bac, the cafes, the market on the Raspail, memories all burnished after five years to a rich glow-now seemed pinched and sour, dingy under a permanent cover of gray cloud.

After two weeks she fled south. Venice at least would look the same, and it reminded her of my father, the early years when they idled away afternoons on the Lido and danced at night. In the photographs they were always tanned, sitting on beach chairs in front of striped changing huts, clowning with friends, everyone in caftans or bulky one-piece woolen bathing suits. Cole Porter had been there, writing patter songs, and since my mother knew Linda, there were a lot of evenings drinking around the piano, that summer when they’d just married. When her train from Paris finally crossed over the lagoon, the sun was so bright on the water that for a few dazzling minutes it actually seemed to be that first summer. Bertie, another figure in the Lido pictures, met her at the station in a motorboat, and as they swung down the Grand Canal, the sun so bright, the palazzos as glorious as ever, the whole improbable city just the same after all these years, she thought she might be happy again.

A week later, with Bertie negotiating in Italian, she leased three floors of a house on the far side of Dorsoduro that once belonged to the Ventimiglia family and was still called Ca’ Venti. The current owner, whom she would later refer to, with no evidence, as the marchesa, took clothes, some silver-framed family photographs, and my mother’s check and moved to the former servants’ quarters on the top floor. The rest of the house was sparsely furnished, as if the marchesa had been selling it off piece by piece, but the piano nobile, all damask and chandeliers, had survived intact, and Bertie made a lend-lease of some modern furniture from his palazzo on the Grand Canal to fill a sitting room at the back. The great feature was the light, pouring in from windows that looked out past the Zattere to the Giudecca. There were maids, who came with the house without seeming to live there, a boat moored on the canal, and a dining room with a painted ceiling that Bertie said was scuola di Tiepolo but not Tiepolo himself. The expatriate community had begun to come back, opening shuttered houses and planning parties. Coffee and sugar were hard to get, but wine was cheap and the daily catch still glistened and flopped on the market tables of the pescaria. La Fenice was open. Mimi Mortimer had arrived from New York and was promising to give a ball. Above all, the city was still beautiful, every turn of a corner a painting, the water a soft pastel in the early evening, before the lamps came on. Then the music started at Florian’s and the boats rocked gently at the edge of the piazzetta, and it all seemed timeless, lovely, as if the war had never happened.

I learned all this many weeks later in a telephone call she had somehow managed to put through by “going to the top.” At this time the trunk lines into Germany were reserved for the military, so I imagined that a general, some friend of a friend, had been charmed or browbeaten into lifting a few restrictions. The call, in any case, caused a lot of raised eyebrows in the old I. G. Farben building outside Frankfurt where I pushed files into one tray or another for US-FET while I waited for my separation papers. I had been in Germany since the beginning of the year, first with G-2, then attached to one of the de-Nazification teams separating the wicked from the merely acquiescent. Frankfurt was still a mess, the streets barely passable, filled with DPs and hollow-eyed children with edema bruises. The phone call, with its scratches and delays, seemed to come from another world, so far from the rubble and desperation just outside my window that its news seemed irrelevant. The marchesa was quiet; you hardly knew she was there (“darling, not even a flush ”). My room had a wonderful view. Her pictures hadn’t arrived from New York yet, but Bertie, a treasure and fluent, was looking into it. It was a call that began in what my father used to call her medias res-a plunge into the middle of whatever she was thinking, followed by exasperation when you didn’t know what she was talking about. Finally I understood that she had moved to Venice intending to stay, which meant that my home would be there too. The point of the call, in fact, was to say she was expecting me for Christmas.

“I’m still in the army.”

“Well, they give passes, don’t they? I mean, it’s not as if the war’s still on. And I’m sure you could use the break. I’ve seen the newsreels-it looks just awful there.”

“Yes.” Camps full of corpses, wheeled out in farm carts to mass graves. Feral kids eating out of PX garbage cans. Women passing bricks hand over hand, digging out. Not what anyone had expected, pushing over the Rhine. GIs rich with a pack of Luckies. What happens after.

“Well, then,” she said. “Won’t it be wonderful? To have Christmas together? It’s been years.”

“In a Fascist country,” I said, half teasing.

“It’s not the same thing at all. They weren’t Nazis. Anyway, all that’s over. It’s lovely here, just like before. I can’t wait for you to see the house. Maybe it’ll snow. They say it’s enchanting in the snow.”

Characteristically, she hung up without giving me her address, so it was to Bertie that I later wrote to say that I’d be spending Christmas in the hospital. After surviving actual combat and the tough early days of the occupation, what got me, embarrassingly, was a rusty nail, a careless step in the debris of a Frankfurt street that caused a puncture wound and required tetanus treatment and a holiday spent with amputees and boys with nervous tics. By the time I finally got to Venice it was February, I was out of the army, and the city was huddled against a damp, misty cold.

The piano nobile, as grand and formal as described, was freezing, kept dark but not draftless by long, heavy drapes. The sitting room, warmed by space heaters from Bertie, was comfortable, but the high Tiepolo dining room made meals so chilly and unpleasant that my mother had taken to eating in the kitchen or off a tray sitting next to the bars of her electric fire. Above us, the marchesa had become so silent that a maid was sent up to check, as if she might be one of those birds who grow still on a winter branch, then suddenly fall over. What would have changed everything was sun, cutting across the Adriatic to seep into all the tile roofs and parquet floors as it often did even in February, but the sky that winter was German, cloudy and gray. In the evenings, near our house, there was no light at all. A fog would come in from the sea, filling the Giudecca channel, streetlights were spaced far apart to save power, and the calles became dark medieval paths again, designed for people with torches.

I noticed none of this-or rather, it was all so like the gray I was used to that I accepted it as natural, the way things were. The gloomy afternoons were no different from the weather in my head, full of listless shadows, an urge to draw in. Does anyone really come back from the war? The lucky ones just keep going, on to the next fight, unaware that they’re breathing different air. The rest of us have to be brought up in stages, like deep-sea divers, to prevent the bends. The boys in the hospital had come back too fast-their faces twitched, their eyes darted at every sound, prey. I slept. The fog that came in at night from the lagoon would fill my head too, a lulling numbness, asking to be wrapped in blankets, left alone. Sometimes there were dreams-really ways of going back, reminders of the nightmare time that was supposed to be over-but mostly the sleep was just fog, opaque and shapeless.

“Just like Swann, couche de bonne heure,” my mother would say, but idly, not really worried, for by this time Dr. Maglione had come back into her life, so she was spending evenings out, unaware that when she left me with a book I was already halfway up the stairs in my mind, curling up with the fog.

The result was that I was waking early, before first light. It wasn’t insomnia-I slept deeply, snug under a warm duvet-but some automatic awareness that the light was about to change, the way plants are said to lift their heads toward the dawn. My bedroom window faced across the channel to the Redentore, and I would look out into the darkness waiting for its lines to start forming, as if Palladio himself were sketching them in again, until finally everything had definition, still murky but real. Then I would put on my heavy wool army coat and leave the house without making a sound, quieter even than the shy marchesa, and begin my walk.

Venice is often said to be a dream, but at that hour, when there is no one out, no sounds but your own steps, it is really so, no longer metaphor-whatever separates the actual paving stones from the alleys in your mind dissolves. The morning mist and the gothic shapes from childhood stories have something to do with this, the rocking slap of boats on the water, tugging at their mooring poles, but mostly it’s the emptiness. The campos and largos are deserted, the buoy marker lights in the lagoon undisturbed by wakes, the noisy day, when the visitors fan out into the calles from the Piazzale Roma, still just a single echo. Things appear at that hour the way they do in sleep, gliding unconnected from one to the next, bolted garden door to shadowy church steps to shuttered shopwindow, no more substantial than fragments of mist.

The walk was always the same. First down along the Zattere, past the lonely vaporetto stations. Just before the Stazione Marittima I would turn into the calle leading to San Sebastiano, Veronese’s church, and a bar for stazione workers that was always open by the time I got there, the windows already moist with steam hissing from the coffee machines. The other customers, in blue workers’ coveralls bulked with sweaters underneath, would nod from their spots at the bar, taking in the army coat, then ignore me, turning back to their coffee and cigarettes, voices kept low, as if someone were still sleeping upstairs. Even at that hour a few were tossing back brandies. The coffee had been cut with something-chicory? acorns? — but was still strong enough to jolt me awake, and standing there with a first cigarette, suddenly alert to everything-the steamed windows, the whiff of scalded milk, isolated words of dialect-it seemed to me that I’d never been asleep at all.

Outside there were a few more people-a boy in a waiter’s uniform heading toward one of the hotels, an old woman in a fur coat coaxing a dog to pee, a priest with his hands in his sleeves, staying warm, all the insomniacs and early risers I’d never seen before I became one of them. I supposed that if I headed over to the Rialto I could see the fish stalls being set up and the boats unloading, the early-morning working world, but I preferred the empty dream city. From San Sebastiano it was a straight path, only slightly angled by bridges, to Campo San Barnaba. No produce market yet, just a man hurrying toward the traghetto station, perhaps still not home from the night before. Then right toward the Accademia, following the natural course of the streets the way water runs in canals, looping finally around the museum, then through the back alleys toward Salute, not a soul in sight again, past the great swirling church and out along the fondamenta to the tip. Here, huddled in my coat with my back against the old customs house, I sat for hours looking across the water to the postcard everyone knew-Ruskin’s waves of marble, the gilt of San Marco catching the first morning sun, the columned landing stage filling with boat traffic, all the beautiful buildings rising out of the water, out of consciousness, the city’s last dream.

I thought at first that my mother would tire of it, the way she tired of everything finally except the past, but Dr. Maglione was an unexpected wrinkle, a piece of future. After my father died there had been a period of melodramatic grief, followed, I assumed, by a series of friendships. But these had happened, if they had happened, offstage. I was away at school, then in the army, then overseas, so what I knew came from letters, and these had been full of other things-volunteer work, openings, her three-week job (unpaid) at the Art of This Century gallery and the inevitable fight with Peggy Guggenheim that followed. Then she had come back to Europe, not really looking for anyone, and suddenly there he was. Not slick or too young or in any way unpleasant-not unlike my father, in fact, gray hair thinning at the temples, quiet, almost reticent. And yet amused by her, the way my father had been, both of them perhaps drawn to a quicksilver quality neither possessed himself. In any case, he was here, making her look brighter, in love with Venice, not even aware the rooms were cold. So I put off going back to New York, unsettled, not sure where any of us was heading.

“He’s not a fortune hunter, you know,” Bertie said. “Besides, if you’re after money, why not young money? Much nicer. And you know I adore Grace, but she can be a handful. Anyway, he had doges in his family.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

“It does if you have them. And he’s a real doctor, you know, it’s not an honorific. My doctor, in fact, and I’m still here.”

“I thought it was drink.”

He picked up his glass. “Well, that too. The point is, he’s not a gigolo.”

“So you introduced them.”

“No, no. They’ve known each other for years. Since the old days. When we were all-well, younger than we are now. The parties, my god. I suppose that’s part of it. It reminds them. Anyway, you ought to be grateful. You don’t want her sitting home alone, do you? Imagine what that would be like. It’s the first thing that occurred to me. There she was, all excited on the phone and packing bags, and I thought, what on earth am I going to do with her? In the winter, no less. People think they’re going to like it here in the winter-they come for Carnival and wouldn’t this be nice? — but they never do. The third night at Harry’s, you can see it on their faces. Bored stiff.”

“You’re not.”

“It’s my home. I know what to expect. The point is, Grace needed a friend and now she has one. She’s happy and she’s out of your hair. You’ve got your life to get on with-not worry about her. What are you planning to do, by the way?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

“Oh, the young. All the time in the world.”

“Right now I’m enjoying Venice, that’s all.”

“Are you? Grace says you sleep all day.”

“No, I walk all day. It’s the only way to see the city. Then I get tired and sleep at night.”

“Mm, a sort of farmer’s life. Up and down with the birds. Are you that bored?” he said, his voice still light, just a hint of concern underneath.

“Not really. I like it. It’s like being on leave.”

“From what?”

I shrugged. “The army. Everything. Just for a while.”

“Don’t stay too long, then. You don’t want to get addicted.”

I looked at him, caught by the word, as if he knew somehow about the mornings sitting against the Dogana, drifting, the beauty of the place a kind of opiate.

“No. But I want to make sure she’s all right. Doges or no.”

“Adam, they have dinner. A drink. Chat. Nobody’s posted the banns. You know what I think? I can say this because I’ve known you all your life. Before your life. I remember when Grace was pregnant with you.” He lifted his glass, pointing a finger. “You’ve got a little too much time on your hands. You’re making trouble where there’s no trouble to be made-for yourself, really. My advice-I know, who ever listens? — is be happy for your mother and mind your own business. Of course, maybe that’s it.”

“What’s it?”

“Not enough business of your own.”

I glanced at his thin, almost elfin face, eyes bright and interested behind the half-moon glasses.

“I don’t want to be introduced. To anybody. Fix up someone else.”

“I don’t fix people up,” he said, almost sniffing at the phrase but enjoying himself. “What’s that, army slang?”

“Yes, you do. Those cozy lunch parties and you sitting there watching, like a turtle.”

“A turtle. Listen to him.” He reached to a box on the coffee table for a cigarette, thinking.

“I mean it, Bertie. I can make my own friends.”

“People never do, though, you know. Have you noticed?”

“You seem to do all right.”

He lit the cigarette, looking over the flame with an arched eyebrow. “Well, I hire them. Oh, don’t be vulgar, I don’t mean like that.”

But I grinned anyway, thinking of the long line of research assistants, young men known to be in the house but rarely seen, like upstairs maids.

“One would think you were still twelve years old. Ten.”

“Almost,” I said, still grinning. “Anyway, too young for your black book.”

“Oh, there’s bound to be someone. People have sisters, don’t they?”

And cousins, as it happened. Or, rather, the cousin’s friend, a connection so tenuous that by the time it had been explained we were already introduced.

“He always does that,” I said, as Bertie walked away to join another group. “He says it gives people something to talk about. It’s Claudia, yes?”

She nodded, watching Bertie. It was one of his afternoon drinks parties, too late for tea but early enough to catch the sunset on the Grand Canal outside. Bertie’s palazzo was near the Mocenigo on the Sant Angelo side, just before the canal makes its last bend toward the Accademia bridge, and in winter the late-afternoon light on the water was muted, almost a pale pink. What sun was left seemed to have moved inside to the burning fireplaces making small circles of heat on either side of the room. The crowd was Bertie’s usual mix-pale-faced curators from the Accademia, where he was “attached” without being officially on staff, a few attractive men whom I took to be former research assistants, overdressed expatriates with drinks, and Venetians rich or idle enough not to be at work at five in the afternoon. I had seen her earlier, standing alone by the window, looking out of place and stranded, like someone who’d been promised a drink and been forgotten. She was fingering her collar button, an unconscious distress signal, then caught my eye and stopped, dropping her hand but not looking away. I started over to rescue her, but Bertie suddenly appeared, moving her back into the crowd, still awkward but at least talking to people. By the time he made his way to me, any shyness was gone, her stare frank and curious.

“What do you usually talk about?” she said, her voice almost flat, as if the effort of speaking English had lowered it, brought it down an octave.

“Anything. Where you learned English, for instance.”

“In London. Before the war. My father wanted me to know English. But of course it’s difficult, these past few years. To speak it.”

“It’s fine,” I said, looking at her more carefully now. She was the first person I’d met here who had referred to the war at all. She was thin, with dark curly hair and a long neck held erect, a dancer’s posture. She had come in office clothes, a gray suit with padded shoulders over a white blouse. Given the cocktail dresses around the room, she should have receded, drab against all that plumage, but instead the suit, with its pointed lapels, gave her a kind of intensity. She held herself with an alert directness, full of purpose, so that everything about her, not just the suit, seemed sharply tailored.

“No, it gets rusty. Rusty, yes?” she said, waiting for me to nod. “I need practice. That’s why I asked to meet you.”

“Really? I thought Bertie-”

“Yes, I asked him. You’re surprised?”

“Flattered. I guess. Why me? Practically everyone here speaks English.”

She smiled a little. “Maybe now it’s not so flattering.” She glanced toward the room. “The others look-”

I turned to follow her glance-maids passing trays, everyone talking loudly through wisps of smoke, laughing as the light faded behind them through the window.

“Frivolous,” I said.

She looked surprised, then bit her lip, smiling. “Yes, but I was going to say old. And you were standing by the fire.”

“So I got elected. What if I’m frivolous too?”

“Signor Howard said you were in the war. So it’s different. You were in Germany? In the fighting?”

“At first. Then a kind of cop. Hunting Nazis, for war crimes.”

She stared now, taking this in, interested. “Then you know. How it was. Not like them,” she said, waving her hand a little to take in the room.

“Maybe they’re the lucky ones. Like Venice.”

“Like Venice?”

“You get off the train here, it’s hard to believe anything ever happened.”

“Well, from Germany. But even here, you know, wartime-it’s not so easy.”

“No, I’m sorry,” I said quickly, imagining the lines, the shortages. “I just meant, no bombs. You were here?”

“Most of the time.”

“A true Venetian.”

“Not for Venice. My family was from Rome. It was my grandfather who came here.”

“Your grandfather? In America, that would make you a founding family.”

“Founding?”

“Old.”

“Ah. No, but in Rome we were an old family. Since the empire.”

“Which empire?”

She hesitated, not sure what I meant. “Rome.”

“What, with chariots?”

She smiled. “Yes.”

“Claudia. A Roman name,” I said, watching her sip from her glass, easier now, even the sharp lapels on the suit somehow softer. “How do you know Bertie?”

“I don’t. He invited everyone from the Accademia. I work there. His friend has a cousin who knew-”

“I heard. I couldn’t keep it straight then either. I haven’t been yet-the Accademia. Maybe you’ll give me a tour. Now that we’ve broken the ice.”

“There, that’s one,” she said quickly, ignoring my question. “You can help me with that. What does it mean, break the ice? I know, to be friendly, but how does it mean that? Like breaking through ice on a lake? I don’t understand it.”

“I never thought about it,” I said. “I suppose just a general stiffness, when people don’t know each other, breaking through that.”

“But not melting the ice-you know, the friendship making things warmer. It’s breaking.” She looked down at her drink, genuinely puzzled.

“All right, melted then. But now that is, would you show me around the Accademia?”

“You should have a guide for that. I’m not really an expert on the paintings.”

“I’m not interested in the paintings.”

“Oh,” she said, unexpectedly flustered. She looked away. “Are you in Venice long?” A party question.

“My mother’s living here-for now, anyway. She’s one of the frivolous people over there.”

“I didn’t mean-”

“No, she is frivolous. It’s part of her charm. It’s what everybody likes about her.”

“Including you?”

“Sure.”

“A son who loves his mother. Very Italian.”

“You see how respectable. So, how about it? Some lunch hour? I’ll help you with your English.”

She looked directly at me. “Why?”

I stood there for a second, not knowing how to answer. “Why?” I said finally. “I don’t know. I’m in Venice. I should get to know some Venetians.”

“They’re Venetian,” she said, moving her hand toward the others.

“None of them asked to meet me.”

She smiled. “Don’t make too much of that. It was for politeness. And now you want to go out with me?” she said, trying “go out.” “You don’t know anything about me.”

“I know your people go way back. So that’s all right. And you’re the first person I’ve enjoyed talking to since I got here.”

“But it’s you who are talking.”

I grinned. “Okay. You talk.”

“No, I have to go.”

“And leave me with them?” We turned. “Look, now it’s priests.” Bertie was greeting a priest in a flowing scarlet cassock, who extended his hand in a royal gesture, barely moving his head, standing in front of some unseen throne. “Who’s that? Do you know?”

“No.”

“I thought everybody here knew everybody. He must be a monsignor or a cardinal. Something. I wish I knew the difference. You’re from Rome-can you tell by the colors?”

“I don’t know. I’m a Jew,” she said quietly.

“Oh,” I said, turning back to her.

“Is that a problem?”

“Why should it be a problem?”

“Jews are not so popular. Not in America either, I think.”

“So you don’t know,” I said, ignoring it, “if he’s a monsignor.”

“No. Don’t you? You’re not a Christian?”

“I’m not anything. Not a Catholic, anyway.”

“But not a Jew either.”

“Part. My grandfather.”

“Miller?”

“Muller. Changed. My father was a mischling.”

“One grandfather.”

“It was enough in Germany.”

She looked at me, then held out her hand. “Thank you for the English. I have to go. It’s already dark. Do you see Signor Howard?” She glanced around the room.

“He’s getting the Church a drink. Come on, no one will miss us.”

“You’re leaving?”

“I’m taking you home.”

“No, it’s far.”

“Nothing’s far in Venice.”

She laughed. “How well do you know it?”

My mother intercepted us at the door, glass in hand.

“Darling, you’re not going. Gianni will be here any-He’ll be sorry to miss you.”

“Not too much.”

“Of course he will. Don’t be silly. The army certainly hasn’t done very much for your manners.”

“You say hi for me,” I said, pecking her on the cheek. “I have to run. This is Miss-I’m sorry, I don’t know your last name.”

“Grassini. Claudia Grassini,” she said, nodding to my mother.

“How nice,” my mother said, shaking her hand. “Finding someone new at one of Bertie’s parties. You probably think we’re the waxworks.”

“We have to run,” I said.

“Perhaps you’d like to join-” my mother started, looking carefully at Claudia, assessing.

“Another time,” Claudia said.

“Of course,” my mother said, a pas de deux. “Did you say goodbye to Bertie?” she said to me.

“He’s in confession.”

She giggled. “Oh, Bertie and his priests. You have to admit, though, he’s the best-dressed person in the room. How did they manage, do you think? During the war. I mean, did they have coupons?”

But by this time we were out the door, walking down the stairs to the hall.

“What was that all about?” I said to Claudia. “That look between you?”

“She’s a mother. She wants to see if I’m all right. You know, like in the market. You feel the fruit.”

I laughed. “How did you come out?”

“She’s not sure. She’s a widow?”

“For years.”

“What did he do, your father?”

“Have fun, mostly. Then he got sick.”

“Fun?”

“It was a different world. People did that then-have fun.”

“These people,” she said, lifting her head toward the stairs, then turning to the maid who was holding her coat. “You don’t have to do this. It’s a long way. I can meet you at the Accademia if you’d really like that.”

“No, I want to see where a real Venetian lives.”

“A poor one, you mean.”

“Are you?”

“Yes, of course. Who lives like this now?” she said, looking up the staircase to the piano nobile. “Only foreigners.”

We were alone at the vaporetto station, huddling in the corner against the cold. The fog had come in, blocking out the opposite side of the canal, so dense you felt you could snatch it in handfuls.

“So what do you do here?” she said, hunching her shoulders, hands stuffed in her pockets.

“Walk. See the city. What does anyone do in Venice? Meet people.”

“At Signor Howard’s?”

“You disapprove?”

“No, no. It’s not for me-” She stopped, then turned away, stamping her feet for warmth. “Signor Howard helped me, at the Accademia.”

“Bertie likes doing that. Helping people. But you still don’t like his friends.”

She looked up at me with a half smile. “Do you?”

“Not anymore. I’m not sure why. I mean, I’ve known some of them for years. It’s just that everything seems different now.”

“For you. Not for them.”

“No, not for them. It’s the same party.”

“I used to see them in the windows, from the canal-all the parties.”

“And now you’re inside.”

“You think so? Ha, brava. The international set. But now it’s like you-it’s all different. I don’t care.”

“I’m glad you went to this one, anyway.”

“Well, for Signor Howard. It was hard to get work when I came back from Fossoli.”

“Where?”

“A camp. Near Modena. Where they put the Jews.”

“There were camps here?”

“You think it was only in Germany? Yes, here. Beautiful Italy. Not so beautiful then.”

“When was this?”

“Forty-four. The first roundups were in forty-three. At the end. But I went later. It was a holding camp. From there, they shipped people on.”

“To Poland?”

She nodded. “So you know that. No one here does. No one here talks about it.”

“You?” I said, involuntarily looking down at her sleeve, as if I could see through to the tattooed numbers.

“No, I stayed at Fossoli.”

“So you were lucky,” I said, thinking of the piled-up carts.

“Yes, lucky,” she said, turning to a bright light coming toward us on the water. “At last. It’s so cold.”

The boat, finally visible through the mist, slammed against the dock.

Inside, we found seats toward the back, the windows steamy with condensation, so that it seemed the fog had moved in with us. There were a few other passengers, tired people going home with string bags, teenagers smoking. In the harsh light of the cabin everything seemed public again, the easy intimacy outside somehow part of the dark. The boat moved slowly, following the cone of its headlight, the motors groaning at the reduced speed, too loud for quiet conversation. But in the sudden warmth we were no longer hunched over. When Claudia sat back and crossed her legs, one came out of the coat, an unexpected flash of white, exposed.

“Do you live with your family?” I said, looking away from her leg.

“No, they’re dead. My mother years ago. My father just last year.”

“Oh,” I said, and then there was nothing to say, nothing worth saying over the engine anyway, drawing attention. Instead we sat quietly, suddenly awkward, rocking with the boat, the swaying movement pushing our bodies together so they barely met, then pulled back, like waves. It was a kind of dancing, a permission to touch in public, aware of each other, the warm skin under the coats.

The other passengers sat nodding to their own rhythm, looking up surprised when station lights suddenly appeared, then gathering their packages, unsteady on their feet until the ropes were tied. After San Marco the boat began to empty, until no one else was in the cabin but an old couple who appeared to be asleep. Outside, everything was still suspended in the fog, the lamps on the Riva just pinpricks of light.

“Where do we get off?” I said, leaning to her ear to say it, so that now there was the smell of her, wool and skin and the faint trace of some perfume she must have put on for Bertie’s.

“Soon. I told you it was far.”

“The Lido?” I said, an excuse to stay close to her face.

She smiled, turning to me. “Not that far. Two more stops,” she said. Then she was silenced by a foghorn off to our right on some invisible ship.

We got off at the public gardens, leaving the old couple to keep drifting out into the lagoon. After a dark stretch bordering the park, the calles took on the usual twists through small deserted campos lit by hooded single bulbs at each corner. This was the tag end of Venice, neglected and out of the way, soundless except for Claudia’s heels on the pavement and a few radios chattering behind shuttered windows. The fog was thinner than it had been on the water, so that even with only a few lights we could see the facades of the buildings, plaster peeling from some of them in large patches. Occasionally, overhead, laundry still hung to dry in the damp air, as if someone had simply forgotten to bring it in.

“You see it’s not the Danieli,” she said as we walked along a misty canal. “But still, a water view. That’s San Isepo. I’m just there.” She pointed to one of the peeling houses. “Can you find your way back?”

“Is this where you lived before?”

“No. In Cannaregio. The ghetto. It’s a Venetian word, you know that? We all lived there, so it was easy to find us. And after, when I came back from Fossoli, I thought, no, anywhere but there. So I found this-the other end of the city. It’s far, but I like it here. At least I can’t hear it anymore, in my head.”

“Hear what?” I said, looking at her closely. We had stopped by the bridge just before her building.

“Nothing. A figure of speech. When I see the streets there, the ghetto, it reminds me. Of the sirens. Here it’s different, it looks different, so the memories aren’t like that.”

“What sirens?”

“For the air raids.”

“I thought Venice wasn’t bombed.”

“No, drills.” She looked away, then back at me. “You want to know? What it was like? They used the air raid sirens so nobody would hear. When they rounded us up. So late, all the screaming and the pounding on the doors, anybody would hear it. At the Casa di Riposo-how do you say, old people’s home-all the patients, so much noise. So they used the sirens to cover up the noise. So no one would hear.”

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly, embarrassed to have said anything.

“They took all the patients. Even the ones too sick to move.” She turned away. “Well. Enough of that. Do you have a cigarette?”

I lit it for her, studying her face in the glow of the match. She leaned back against the wall of the bridge.

“So now you know all about me. Where I live, where I work. Now even my memories. I don’t go to Harry’s. I live here. Not Signor Howard’s Venice. Not yours, either.”

“No. Did they take you that night?”

“Later. In the fall.”

“And then what happened?”

“At Fossoli? You want to know that too? Everything?” She hesitated, then looked directly at me. “Yes, all right. Look how easy I say that. I told no one. Now some stranger at a rich party, and-” She stopped again. “Why was I lucky? One of the men who ran the camp raped me. Of course he didn’t call it rape. Only I thought that. Every time. So. Is there anything else you want to know?”

I said nothing. She drew on the cigarette, watching me, as if she were expecting me to turn away.

“No?”

“Yes. Why you wanted to meet me.”

She smiled a little. “That too? All right. I don’t know. Maybe I liked the look of you.”

I smiled back, surprised. “No one’s ever said that to me before. Are you always so-” I paused, not finding the word.

“You prefer the old Venice? The masks? The notes? I used to want that. How wonderful to look over your fan at La Fenice. So romantic. But now it’s what you say-everything’s different. I came back and it’s all different. So now I’m like this.”

“My mother came back because she thinks it’s all the same.”

She dropped the cigarette and ground it out with her shoe. “Good night,” she said. Then she looked up at me, studying my face. “Are we going to be lovers, do you think?”

I met her stare. “Yes.”

“You think so.”

“Don’t you?” I reached up my hand, but she stopped it with hers, letting our fingers touch.

“I don’t know yet. Maybe. But not the first meeting. I can’t do that.”

I leaned closer and lowered my face to hers. A tentative kiss, on the lips, a hint of salt water; then another, longer this time, our mouths slightly open; then more, taking our time until we were moving over each other, open and excited, and she broke away with a small gasp.

“Can I come in?”

“No, it’s too soon. Go home, think who I am. Then, if you still want to, we’ll-see each other.”

“Over fans at La Fenice.”

She smiled. “That’s right. Over fans. Do you know how to get back?”

“Walk toward the water.”

I waited while she put the key in the door.

“When will you know?” I said.

She made a teasing face. “When I know you better.” She made a shooing motion with her hand. “Just follow the canal-you’ll see the gardens.”

On the boat back, I stood at the deck rail. As we moved in and out of the fog, toward the lights, then away again, Venice seemed more than ever dreamlike, something not really there. But once there had been sirens and dogs. Think who I am. Not just another folder on my desk in Frankfurt. More disturbing than that, here, tasting a little of salt. At home, staring out the dark window, for the first time in weeks I didn’t sleep.

It took hours for the room to fill up with light, reflecting off the water, then moving along the walls in ripples. I opened the window, listening to the canal sloshing against the house. Too late for sleepwalking but too early for open shops, anything else. I dressed and headed for the Accademia, but it would be hours before the tall doors opened. I could walk out to the Dogana, my usual morning seat, but all that now seemed to have happened weeks ago, somewhere else. How could anyone just sit, looking? I started up the broad wooden steps of the bridge. Over to Santo Stefano. A coffee and a newspaper. But that was idling. Who could sit? The point was to keep going, now that I had somewhere to go.

The sun held all the way through San Marco and along the Riva, bouncing off the white marble and back against the water. I walked faster. Even the air, after weeks of mist and damp, was sharp and dry, as if it too had cleared its head and decided what to do. And then, like a sudden shift of mood, it was over. The sky began to fill with clouds again, blown back in from the west, and by the time I reached the funfair at the far end of the Riva the shuttered caravans and children’s rides were as drab and dismal as they’d been all winter. The brick towers of the Arsenale, glowing like kilns a few minutes before, had turned gloomy.

I crossed the last bridge before the vaporetto stop suddenly feeling foolish, still hours early, the idea of coming here at all like something out of a song lyric, silly in the gray light. The sensible thing would be to catch the next boat back and go to the Accademia at lunch hour. Instead I waited, smoking on a bench near the floating dock, not willing to waste a morning. What time did the staff get to the Accademia? A few people were opening umbrellas. I felt a light drizzle on my face and took shelter inside the vaporetto station. So much for the expansive gesture, sunshine, and open arms. Now I was hunched over with a damp collar.

It didn’t matter. She came onto the quay and it was just as I imagined it would be-the same direct walk, a glance up from under the umbrella, a sudden stop, and her surprised face, unguarded, absolutely still until something turned over inside, loosening an involuntary smile. She was wearing the same wool coat and sharp-lapeled suit-her only one? — and for a second I saw how she would take it off, just the jacket, nothing else, sliding it back from her arms while she stared straight at me, taking it off for me. Now she hurried into the shelter, folding her umbrella, eyes still wide, disbelieving.

“Have you been here all night?” she said, laughing a little.

I shook my head. “I get up early.”

“But what are you doing here?”

“I want you to get to know me better.”

Her face softened. “At this hour?”

“I thought we’d better start. I don’t know how much you want to know.”

She said nothing, her eyes still reading my face, pleased.

“I like risotto. Any kind of fish.”

She laughed. “Do you think I’m going to cook for you?”

“Okay. We’ll go out.”

“A rich American.”

“I live in Dorsoduro. My room has a view of the Redentore.”

“I’m not going to your room. In your mother’s house.”

“Then I’ll find something else.”

“I’m not going anywhere, except to work.”

“That’s why I’m here. We can talk on the way.”

“To come here like this, at this hour. You must be crazy.”

“Must be. What time do you get off for lunch?”

“You’re so sure of this?”

“Yes.”

She looked away. “Here comes the boat.”

I reached up and moved her chin with my hand. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

Only a few people got on with us, but the boat was already packed with commuters coming from the Lido, reading newspapers or just staring out the windows. We stood away from the rain but wedged near the gangplank gate, pressed against each other.

“Just like the bus,” I said, but of course it wasn’t, dipping with the shallow waves, even a morning commute turned into an excursion. The water gave everything in Venice this playful quality. Ambulances were boats, so not quite ambulances. Fire boats and delivery barges and taxis-all the same, yet different, bobbing on the water, somehow looking half made-up. “We should have a gondola, like the old days.”

“No, they frighten me. So unsteady. I can’t swim.”

“In Venice?”

“Nobody swims in Venice. Where, in the canals?” She made a face. “It’s not so unusual. Even gondoliers.” A city people, rooted to pavement. “Anyway, I never learned. So I don’t go in boats. Only these,” she said, waving her hand toward the crowd.

“I’ll take you out. I’m good with boats-that’s something else to know. You’d be safe.”

“Oh, you have a gondola?”

“Actually, I do. One came with the house. But no gondolier, so it’s up on supports. There’s a boat, though. We could take that. With life jackets. Go and have a picnic.”

“In this weather.”

“Well, when it’s nicer.”

“And you’ll be here when it’s nicer.” She turned to me. “You don’t have to do this.”

“What?”

“Act like this. Take me on boats. Take me anywhere. Picnics. Like the films. So romantic. It’s not like that anymore.”

“No?”

“Not for me.”

“What do you want me to talk about, then?”

“What you’re thinking. Not this-what?”

“Flirting?”

“Playacting. It’s not serious.”

“No. It’s supposed to be part of the fun.”

She looked away, then stepped back to let some passengers get near the rail. We were pulling into Salute. She moved farther away, not wanting to talk with anyone close by, pretending to look at the church. Even in the drizzle, the baroque curves were bright white, like swirls of meringue. When the boat swung out again, she turned to find me looking at her.

“Now what? More picnics?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

“What I’m really thinking?”

She nodded.

“What it would be like. You, taking your clothes off. What you would be like.”

For a moment she said nothing, her look embarrassed, no longer direct.

“I’m sorry. You said no more playacting. It’s what I was thinking-what it would be like.”

She nodded slightly. “All right,” she said, and turned to the rail.

Which meant what? Anything. But her back was to me, like a finger to the lips, and I said nothing. We rode that way, both facing the palazzos. After we tied up at Accademia, I took her arm and we crossed the gangplank. In the open square in front of the old convent, we stood bareheaded, surrounded by umbrellas.

“What time do you get off for lunch?”

“One. Go and look at the pictures.”

“All morning.”

She smiled. “Some people take days. And now it’s the best time-no one’s there. You can stand in front of The House of Levi as long as you want.”

“A Jewish picture?”

“No, the Last Supper. But Veronese put in a drunk and dwarfs and the pope said it was-what? profane? — so he changed the title.”

“Italian accommodation.”

“Hypocrisy. Well, we had good teachers.” She looked up at me, serious. “It won’t be like that with us, will it? No pretending. Just what it is.”

I nodded. “So you’ve decided.”

“When I saw you this morning.”

I leaned forward. “Don’t go to work.”

“No, one o’clock,” she said, then reached up and put her hand on my chest. “Get a room.”

I felt a twitch, like a spurt of blood.

“My house is-”

“No. Somewhere no one knows us. Not here. Near the station. One of those places. You can afford that,” she said with a small smile. “You’re a rich American.”

I bent over to kiss her, but she stopped me, pushing against my chest, her eyes playful. “Later,” she said. “You can think what it will be like.”

We became lovers that afternoon in one of those hotels off the Lista di Spagna that put up students with backpacks and salesmen from Padua. The vaporetto ride had seemed endless, dripping umbrellas and anxious looks, not talking, the few blocks on foot worse, umbrellas forcing everyone to walk single-file in the narrow calles. In the room, past the sour desk clerk, we were suddenly shy, like the students who usually stayed there, and then she slipped off her jacket with the sliding movement I’d imagined, and hung it in the armoire and turned to me, and I understood that I was to unbutton her blouse, and I began fingering it, feeling the warmth underneath, until finally she put her hand over mine, guiding it to each button so that we did it together.

It had been so long since I’d had sex, at least with anyone I’d wanted, that it felt curiously like a first time-tentative and then urgent, wanting to get it right but too hurried to find a rhythm. We hung up all her clothes, an efficiency that became a tease, then a kind of ritual, and when we were naked I started running my hand over her slowly, wanting to touch every part of her, but when I reached down she was already wet and after that we fell on the bed, both in a rush. Without the suit she was round, her skin soft, but her movements were still direct, the way I knew they’d be, never coy, reaching out to pull me into her. Just what it is. Skin on skin, without nuance, first-time sex, so hungry, tongues and sweat and a hurrying you can’t stop, over too soon. We lay for a minute, finally not moving, still together, panting. Then she reached up and pushed my hair from my forehead.

“I don’t have to go back,” she said.

“No?” I said, feeling myself hard again.

“We have lots of time.”

“I’m sorry I-”

“No, no. Me too. Now we can start.”

And this time it was slower, almost lazy, so that I felt her around me, not plunging in and out, everything slick, but taking the time to feel the moist, hidden skin, the secret part of her.

Afterward we lay in a tangle, exhausted but not wanting to stop, touching each other.

“What did you tell them, at the Accademia?”

“That I was sick. Everyone is sick in Venice in the winter. My god, listen to that. No wonder.”

The rain had grown stronger, a real downpour now, noisy against the window.

“But it makes it nice in here,” I said, the cheap hotel room suddenly a refuge.

“Yes. And freezing,” she said, pulling a sheet up around her.

“No, let me look at you. I’ll keep you warm.”

She moved closer, talking into my shoulder.

“It’s the first time since I came back. You forget how peaceful, after.”

The perfect happiness of sex, drowsy and full, something you think happens only to you.

“I feel honored,” I said, teasing. “Why me?”

“I told you, I liked your looks.”

“That’s right. My looks.”

She raised herself on one elbow. “And you. Do you like mine?”

I shook my head. “Your mind.”

She looked at me, puzzled, until I smiled. “It’s an American joke. Don’t worry. I like everything. Here. And here.”

She wriggled away from my hand but stayed close. “Did you have a girl in Germany?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I felt sorry for them. You can’t, when you feel sorry for somebody.”

“Sorry for Germans?”

“They were hungry. Living in cellars. So they’d do anything-even make you think they liked you. How would you feel?”

“Don’t ask me that. I can’t feel sorry for Germans.”

“Anyway, I didn’t go with anybody,” I said, moving away from it. “Maybe I was waiting.” I brushed a lock of her hair behind her ear.

“Ha. More romantics.” She was running her fingers across my chest, an idle examination. “No marks. Were you wounded?”

“No. I pushed paper. Not so dangerous.”

“So you never killed anybody? No Germans?”

“No. Did you?”

“Who would I kill?”

“I don’t know. The man at the camp maybe.”

She stopped running her fingers and sat up, turning toward the window.

“He kept me alive. I was grateful to him. Imagine, being grateful to someone like that. Imagine what the others were.”

“What happened to him?”

“He was killed. After the Germans left. Maybe by partisans. It was like that, those first weeks.” She turned to me. “You don’t mind about him?”

“No. Why should I mind?”

“Some men-” She paused. “I saw his body. Dead. I felt nothing. After all that, nothing. Maybe you get used to it, all the killing. That’s the problem. You think you want to kill them all. Where do you stop? The guard who pushed the children on the train? Yes, him. Then why not the ones watching? Why not everybody? And then you’re like them.”

“You’re not like them.”

She looked up at me. “Everybody’s like them.”

“No, we’re not,” I said, putting my hand on her shoulder and pulling her down to the bed, leaning over her. “Anyway, it’s over.”

“Yes.” She reached up, touching my neck. “I wanted to know. If it would always feel-the way it was with him.”

“Does it?”

She shook her head.

“Good. Let’s make sure.”

The afternoon went on like that, stroking each other and then, excited again, grabbing at flesh in a kind of fury, and then dozing off, drugged with sex, hearing the rain in our half sleep. Even when it was finished we kept touching lightly, not wanting to arouse each other but unable to take our hands away. Once, during a break in the storm, I dressed and ran out for a bottle of wine, half afraid that when I got back she’d be taking her clothes out of the armoire, the mood broken, but she was still there, sheet pulled up just over her breasts.

“I’m sick, remember? I have to spend the day in bed,” she said while I poured the wine. “You’re soaked.”

“Not for long,” I said, taking my wet clothes off and climbing back in, clinking glasses. “So, a picnic finally.”

“Oh, on the Lista di Spagna.”

“You should see the water out there. We’ll be our own island in a few hours.”

She looked at me over the glass. “That’s nice, to say that.”

We slept finally, lulled by the wine and the steady rain, her back curved into me, and when I woke the sound of running water was coming from the tub. There was a thin light under the door. I got up and looked out the window. Not really late but already dark, as if the waterlogged city had simply given up and turned out the lights.

“I don’t know if there’s enough hot water for two,” she said when I went into the bathroom. “It was already getting cool. Do you mind? I thought, at your house-”

“That’s all right. I’ll just watch,” I said, sitting on the edge of the tub. The room was spare, the bathmat just a skinny towel thrown on the cold linoleum. Whatever steam there had been was now gone from the flat mirror over the basin.

“One look, then. I’m getting out,” she said, pulling herself up and posing with her hand on her hip, a kind of burlesque wiggle, then folding her arms across her chest in a shiver. “Oh, this cold.”

“Here,” I said, wrapping one of the thin towels around her as she stepped out. I held her for a minute, letting the towel blot the water, then began rubbing her dry with another one. “Come back to bed. It’s warm.”

“No, it’s late.”

“Have dinner.”

“No, it’s time to go home. I have to keep respectable hours. For the neighbors,” she said, slipping on her underpants and hooking her bra. “To be respectable.”

“You’re not,” I said, smiling.

She came over and put her hand in my hair. “I used to be.”

I picked up my shorts. “All right. I’ll take you home.”

“No, not tonight.” She looked at me. “It’s better. You stay here.”

“What am I going to do here?”

“You can watch.” She slipped on her skirt, her face sly, as if she knew this covering up would turn erotic, each simple move, even lifting a blouse from its hanger, a secret between us, her body something only we knew, more ours than ever as she hid it from everyone else, piece by piece.

She came over to the bed and looked down. “And you want to go on the vaporetto?” She leaned down, taking my erection in her hand while she kissed me. “Sometimes, you know, when it’s like this, we want to think it’s something else. But it’s not, it’s just what it is, that’s all. It’s enough for me, what it is. You understand?” She ran her fingers up the side of my penis, then moved her hand away.

I nodded.

“Thank you,” she said. “For the day. For the room.”

“Tomorrow?” I said.

She looked at me, then smiled. “But somewhere nearer. I’ll have to go back to work. Not all day, like this.”

“Anything. The Gritti?”

“No, somewhere cheap. With sheets like this.” She gestured toward the rumpled bed. “So we don’t care what we do.”

I got up to follow, grabbing part of the sheet to cover myself, making her giggle.

“Very funny.”

“Well, it is, though. How is that? So serious and then it’s funny. You think it’s funny for the animals?”

“No, but they don’t go home early, either.”

She laughed. “One o’clock.”

I went over to the window and waited to see her come out below, the wide shoulders of her coat as she moved into a line of umbrellas, people hurrying home from work, none of them turning around to look back, none aware that anything had happened.

CHAPTER TWO

My mother picked that evening, when my head was groggy, still flooded with sex, to put her foot down about dinner with Gianni.

“He’s going to think you’re avoiding him. I waited until the last possible minute. Where have you been, anyway?”

“Looking at art.”

“Art.”

“I’m not avoiding him. I’m just tired.”

“You’re always tired.” She bit her lip. “Do this for me, would you, sweetie? I don’t want to have to make apologies again. It’s rude, aside from anything else.”

“Well, I can’t go like this,” I said, patting my soaked jacket. Everything crumpled, like the sheets. It occurred to me that I might even smell of it, the whole sweaty afternoon. “I have to wash.”

My mother sighed. “All right. Meet us at Harry’s. I’ll send the taxi back and tell him to wait. You won’t even need the traghetto. But darling, quickly, please?”

“All right. Chop-chop. What do you want me to wear?” I said, looking at her, primped, even some of her good jewels.

“We’re going to the Monaco, so something decent. You know. Not the uniform, please. That wasn’t funny at all, at Mimi’s. How do you think it makes them feel?”

“It was the only thing I had at the time.”

“Well, not at the Monaco.”

“God forbid.”

She looked at me. “You’re not going to be in a mood, are you?”

“Promise. Actually, I’m in a good mood.”

“I can see. The art, no doubt.” She raised an eyebrow. “I can smell the wine from here. Go easy at Harry’s. As long as you’re doing this, you might as well make a good impression. He’s nervous about you.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re the only family I have. You know what Italians are like about families.”

“What about Aunt Edna?”

She laughed. “Darling, she’s what I use when I want to get out of something.”

I looked at her. “What do you want to get into?”

She turned away, picking up her purse. “Nothing. I just want us to have a nice dinner.” She looked back. “I live here now, you know. Gianni is a good friend. It’s not too much to ask.”

“No.”

“You used to be so charming. I suppose it’s the war.”

It seemed such an extraordinary thing to say that for a minute I couldn’t think how to answer. But she had caught my look.

“You know what I mean. I know-well, I don’t know, that’s the problem. But you never say, either. And anyway, it’s over, that’s the main thing. Now look at the time. I’m going to be late.”

“He’ll wait.”

She smiled. “That doesn’t make it right.” She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. “Don’t be long. And no politics.”

“Why? What are his politics?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea. I never ask. And I don’t want you to, either. It always ends in arguments, no matter what it is. Besides, it’s their country-things never make sense to outsiders.”

“All right. No politics. Art?”

“Art.” Her eyes were laughing, full of their old spirit.

“Maybe we’ll just talk about you,” I said, smiling. “What could be more interesting?”

“Mm. What could?” she said, throwing me a look, then heading for the stairs. Below us, I could hear the motorboat taxi churning water at the canal steps. “Good thing I’m going first. I can tell him you’re adopted.”

I was ready by the time the taxi returned. It was still raining, and after we rounded the tip of the Dogana and headed across to San Marco even the lights seemed blurry, as if the city were actually underwater. The campanile disappeared somewhere in an upper mist and the piazza itself was deserted, with nothing to fill the empty space but lonely rows of lamps.

Harry’s, however, was snug and busy, all polished wood and furs draped over chairs and eager American voices. The bar was hidden behind a line of uniforms, officers on leave. My mother and Gianni were both drinking Prosecco, their second by the look of the half-filled olive dish.

“Ah, at last,” he said, getting up. “I’m so happy you could come.” A polite smile, genial.

“Sorry to hold you up. Should we just go over?” I gestured to the door and the Monaco just across the calle.

“No, no, there’s time. Have a drink.”

A waiter appeared, summoned apparently by thought.

“Well, a martini then,” I said to the waiter, ignoring my mother’s glance.

“What is the expression?” Gianni said. “Out of wet clothes and into a dry martini.” He smiled, pleased with himself.

“Yes,” I said. “Look, there’s Bertie.”

He was at the far end of the room, drinking with a woman in an elaborate hat. Between us was the usual crowd, half of whom had probably been at his party.

“Yes, we saw him earlier,” my mother said. “Gianni, who’s he with?”

“Principessa Montardi.”

“Really a principessa?”

“Well, the prince was real. And she married him. Her father was in milk products. Milanese.”

“The things you know.”

“It’s a small city. We know each other maybe too well. Ah, here’s your drink.”

The martini was strong and I felt the heat of it right away, pleasant, like the warm light of the room. Bertie had waved, the others who vaguely knew us had noticed, and now we could retreat to ourselves. I felt lightheaded, wanting to grin, still thinking about the afternoon. And there’d be tomorrow, another room. Then another. Afternoons of pure pleasure. In Germany there had been an army nurse drunk at a party, and one German girl, who had asked for tinned meat afterward, both times sad, furtive, closed off, like the country itself now. Here everything was pleasure-sex and buildings glimmering on the water, even Harry’s green olives. I realized-was it only the martini? — that I was happy.

“You look like the cat who swallowed the canary,” my mother said. “What are you thinking about?”

“Just how nice this all is.”

“You’re enjoying Venice, then?” Gianni said.

“Yes, very much. Doesn’t everybody?”

“Most, yes, I think. Even we do sometimes,” he said.

“Does it bother you, all the visitors?”

“No, it’s important for us. How else could we live? Of course you cannot choose your visitors. The Wehrmacht loved us, for their holidays. In the spring all the tables in San Marco, nothing but uniforms. Their city. So that was difficult.”

“Awful,” my mother said automatically.

“You have been in Germany, Grace said?”

I nodded. “What’s left of it.”

“The bombs, you mean.”

“The cities are gone. Flat.”

“So that’s how it ended for them. You see how lucky we are. Imagine Venice-” He shuddered. “How long will you stay?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

“He’s been looking at art,” my mother said wryly.

“Yes? Then you will never leave. There is always more art in Venice. Where have you been? The Accademia?”

I nodded. “No one’s there this time of year. You can look at The House of Levi for hours and not have to move.”

“Really,” my mother said, surprised.

Dr. Maglione smiled in agreement. “Veronese. Maybe the finest of them. Tintoretto, it’s too much sometimes. You must see San Sebastiano, Veronese’s church.”

“Yes, off the Zattere. Before the maritime station.”

My mother was now looking at me in real surprise, aware suddenly that my time here was unknown to her, something I did between meals.

“So you know it. I can see you don’t need me for a guide,” he said pleasantly. “Now Grace-” He smiled at her.

“He thinks I’m hopeless,” my mother said.

“Hopeless, no.”

“I follow those yellow signs with the arrows and I still have no idea where I am. They always say Per Rialto and I never want to go there.”

“No, especially not there,” Dr. Maglione said, laughing.

A look passed between them, so intimate that I went back to my martini, feeling in the way. Even with my skin still flushed with it, I couldn’t make the leap from the damp sheets of my own afternoon to whatever time they were remembering. I had not imagined anything beyond friendship, a way to pass the time. And yet there must have been sex, maybe even with sweat and gasps, open mouths. I looked at him, now lighting a cigarette. Thinning gray hair brushed back at the temples, intelligent eyes. But what did she see? He caught my glance, meeting my eyes through the smoke in a question.

“Turned up at last, has he?” Behind me, Bertie had put a hand on my shoulder.

“Hello, Bertie,” I said. “Where’s your princess?”

“In the loo. So I thought I’d say hello. I hate staring at an empty table, don’t you?”

“Join us,” Dr. Maglione said.

“No, no, she’s quick as a bunny usually. I don’t know how you do it,” he said to my mother. “All those layers.”

My mother laughed.

“And where did you get to last night?” Bertie said to me. “Now you see him, now you don’t.”

“I didn’t want to interrupt. You were about to go into confession.”

“And so should you, once in a while. I know I don’t want to be caught unawares. Between the old stirrup and the ground.” He looked at me. “You haven’t the faintest idea what I’m talking about, do you? Heathen. A fine job you’ve done, Grace.”

“Still, he went to the Accademia,” Gianni said. “So maybe that was his church today.”

“Did you?” Bertie said, looking at me, letting the phrase hang in the air.

“Would you join us for dinner?” Gianni said, polite. Or was he already beginning to tire, seeing the evening before us in our odd triangle, idling talking about Veronese but looking at one another, wary, pretending to be a family?

“ Molto gentile, but you’d never forgive me. The boredom of her. Old hunting days in the Piedmont. You don’t want to hear it, I promise you.”

“What about you?” my mother said, laughing.

“Well, I have to. One of life’s little crosses. The husband was a peach, you know. Funny how people find-oh, look sharp, the Inquisition. Been up to anything?”

I turned to find a thickset man in a natty suit coming toward the table. Neatly trimmed mustache and shiny face, a man who might just have come from the barber’s. Gianni stood up, frowning.

“ Dottore,” the man said to him. Then a stream of Italian, obviously friendly. He put his hand on Bertie’s arm. “And Signor Howard. I’m sorry, don’t let me interrupt.”

“No, no. My friend Mrs. Miller. Her son Adam. Grace, Inspector Cavallini.”

Cavallini bowed, a stage gesture.

“Inspector?” my mother said. “Police inspector?”

“Yes. Have you done anything wrong?”

“Do people tell you?”

He smiled. “No, usually I have to catch them.” He nodded and touched my hand halfheartedly, glancing at Dr. Maglione.

“And he does. Always,” Bertie said.

“Here? At Harry’s?” my mother said.

“No, here I take Prosecco. Off-duty.” He was enjoying my mother. “You don’t think it would disturb the customers?”

“I think it would make their night.”

He laughed, then said something in Italian to Gianni that I took to be a word of approval, and bowed a leavetaking to the rest of us. “Signora, a great pleasure. Signor Howard, you are behaving yourself?” He wagged his forefinger teasingly.

“Me? I’m one of the good. As you know. Practically Caesar’s wife.”

Cavallini smiled. “Yes, practically,” he said, and headed for the frosted glass door.

“Bertie, give,” my mother said, interested. “How on earth do you know him?”

“I’m a foreign national, you know. We had to report during the war.”

“Report? I thought they locked you up.”

“Irish passport, lovey. Thanks to me dad. So there’s that to be said for him anyway. Convenient being a neutral just then.”

“But weren’t you both?”

“Not here. Green as a clover. Had to be. Otherwise, you know, I’d have had to leave. My pictures, my house. Then what?”

“Yes, then what?” I said.

He looked at me sharply, then back at my mother. “Anyway, they couldn’t have been nicer. Came to the house, had a drink, and that was it. Never even had to go to the station. Now that it’s over, I rather miss it, the little visits.”

“Oh, Bertie, you don’t mean it. He’s creepy.”

“You don’t find him charming?” Bertie said.

“The police?”

Gianni smiled. “Police are men too. In America maybe it’s different.”

“Well, I’ll tell you one thing, they’re not drinking at Harry’s. How can he afford it, aside from anything else?”

“Grace, dear,” Bertie said, “that is exactly the sort of question one should never ask. Not here.”

“You mean he’s-” My mother started, eyes wide, imagining, I suppose, black-market storerooms and goods hidden under raincoats.

“Bertie makes a joke, I think,” Gianni said, calming her. “It’s not so expensive, one drink. Even at Harry’s.”

“But imagine a policeman at ‘21’,” my mother said, still toying with it.

“There she is,” Bertie said, spotting the principessa. “What did I tell you? Less time than it takes to-fresh lipstick too. She’s a wonder. Enjoy your dinner.” He hurried away, intercepting her at their table and helping her with her coat.

“We must go too,” Gianni said. “Have you finished your drink?” He turned, surprised to find me looking at him.

“How is it that you know him?” I said.

“Inspector Cavallini? Sometimes they come to the hospital for help. Medical evidence.”

“Really?” my mother said. “Did you ever solve anything?”

Gianni smiled. “Not yet. Shall we go?” He leaned over to wrap my mother’s fur around her shoulder.

I got up. Dizzy for a second, I pressed against the table for support.

“Are you all right?” he asked, a doctor’s voice.

I nodded. “Just a drink on an empty stomach. I forgot I haven’t eaten all day.”

“Too busy looking at art,” my mother said, amusing herself.

The dining room at the Monaco was formal and starchy-waiters in black tie, silver serving trolleys, soft, flattering lights. Gianni made a pleasant fuss ordering us schie and polenta to start, a winter specialty, then took his time with the wine list. I had a cigarette and looked around the room-a light crowd, off-season, but dressed for an evening out, elegant, as if they, like the quails on the serving cart, had somehow been preserved in aspic. The room was almost as warm as Harry’s, immune to fuel shortages. There were arrangements of winter branches, like abstracts of flowers, ice buckets, the smell of perfume. At one point I noticed Gianni smiling at my mother, and I followed his eyes, wanting just for a minute to see what he did and realized that for them the room was somehow erotic. Not cheap hotels and tepid baths, worn sheets and bare skin, nothing that had made my afternoon exciting. For them the furs and perfume and rich food were part of what sex had become. He was looking at money.

“There’s something I don’t understand,” I said, drawing their attention back to the table. “Is he an inspector now?”

“Yes, of course.”

“And he has been-I mean, he consulted you on cases. So that means he was working for the Germans.”

“Technically. At the end. We were an occupied country.”

“But he’s police. Not a doctor or a waiter or something. Police. Why hasn’t he been thrown out?”

“For doing what?”

“Enforcing German laws. And before that-”

“Fascist laws? Yes, you can say it. Well, who knows if he enforced them?” He tasted the wine, the waiter hovering. “Yes, very nice.” We said nothing as the waiter poured.

“But if he didn’t, what makes you think he’ll enforce new ones now?”

Gianni smiled. “Well, it’s a question, yes? But you see, you make the problem for yourself. I don’t expect him to enforce them-not too many anyway. Just the ones we need to live. The others, we bow, we tip our hat, we ignore. Shall we make a toast? To happier times?”

“Yes,” my mother said, raising her glass.

We clinked glasses-celebrating what?

“You’re still troubled by this?” Gianni said, looking at me.

“But if he was a police officer, he must have been a Fascist. I mean, in the party.”

Gianni nodded. “It was required. But what was in his heart, I don’t know. People do things to survive. So we must give them the benefit of the doubt.”

“Innocent until proven guilty,” my mother said lightly.

Gianni smiled. “Well, innocent, maybe that goes too far.” He looked at me. “I understand what you mean. But how can I explain it to you? To live under-you know the word tyranny is from the Latin tyrannus. So we have known how to live with this for a long time. You bend. Maybe you think we bend too much, but we look at history and it tells us, the important thing is to survive.” He opened his hand, gesturing. “And we did. Now with this good wine. In this beautiful city. All still here, still beautiful. It’s the Germans who have gone. We survived them too. For us it’s a kind of strength, to bend.” He paused. “When it’s inevitable.”

“Like The House of Levi,” I said, thinking to myself.

“What?” my mother said.

“It was The Last Supper. He changed the title because the pope didn’t like it.”

“The Inquisition didn’t like it,” Gianni said. “More Nazis. Torture. Burnings. Worse, sometimes. Castrating people. You learn how to bend with a history like ours.”

“But that was a question of belief.”

“You think Goebbels didn’t believe? Any of them? Right up to the end they believed in something. I don’t know what-their own hate, maybe. And when the Inquisition lit the fires under people, what did they believe? To save them. By killing them. Compared to the Church, the Nazis were amateurs. At least the Nazis didn’t ask you to think they were right to do it. They didn’t care what you thought.” He studied his wine. “Forgive me, no more speeches. But your painting-does it matter what it’s called? So long as it’s beautiful?”

“No.”

“You see, an Italian answer. And Veronese, you know he was also being a tiny bit naughty. Putting all that in, the dwarfs, the drinking. A sacred scene. He knew what they would think. But that’s Italian too, maybe, to tweak the nose-that’s right? tweak? — of the Church. You can do that if you bend. The Germans never understood that-they never bend and they destroy themselves. Why?” He shook his head. “Northern people. Sometimes they are all a mystery.”

“All of us?” my mother said, flirting.

“Oh, you, certainly. A great mystery. But that’s because you’re a woman. All women are mysteries.” A stage courtliness, the two of them practically winking at each other.

The polenta arrived, covered in tiny brown shrimp from the lagoon.

“Funny about Bertie knowing him,” my mother said. “He was careful with him, did you notice? I’ll bet it wasn’t half as easy as he makes out. During the war.”

“No, not for anyone,” Gianni said. “Of course, Bertie has many friends. I don’t think it was dangerous for him.”

“Irish, my foot,” my mother said, laughing to herself. She glanced over at Gianni, her face soft. Not just a dinner companion, someone to take charge of the wine list.

“In Germany, you were a soldier?” Gianni said, keeping the conversation going.

“G-2. Intelligence. We investigated Germans suspected of Nazi activity.”

“Ah, that explains your interest in Cavallini. One investigator to another, eh? You want to compare methods?” He was smiling.

“Ours was mostly pushing paper around.”

He laughed. “So was his, I think. But it must have been difficult, yes? Surely the real Nazis would lie. So how do you know?”

“We don’t always. That’s what makes it difficult.”

“Impossible, maybe.”

“Maybe. We still have to try.”

“But why? The war is over.”

“Their crimes aren’t.”

“Ah. A passion for justice,” he said, nodding, a paternal indulgence. “Maybe you’ll be a lawyer.”

“Maybe.”

“Oh darling, really?” my mother said. “I haven’t wanted to ask. You’ve seemed-at such loose ends.”

“Don’t rush,” Gianni said. “To be this age, it’s wonderful. You don’t have to decide anything. Not yet. Not like us, eh?” he said to my mother. “We have to hurry with everything now.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“Ah, you see,” he said, ostensibly to me, “how she makes fun of me.” His hand moved slightly toward hers and just grazed it.

I looked away. “Did you always want to be a doctor?” I said.

“Well, for me it was different. A family tradition. One of us was for medicine and one for-well, to carry the name. But he died, so it’s the end. I have only a daughter.”

“You’re married?” I said, not expecting this.

“I was. She died.”

“I’m sorry. Where is your daughter?”

“Bologna. At the university.”

“Medicine?”

He smiled. “No, an avvocato. Another one with a passion for justice. How did it happen?” he said to my mother. “To have such children?”

“Think of theirs.”

“Would you like to see the hospital?” Gianni said to me, not an offhand invitation, an obvious effort to get closer.

“The hospital?”

“For the architectural interest. It was once the Scuola di San Marco. Near Zanipolo. The library has the most beautiful ceiling in all of Venice.”

“Yes, I’d like that,” I said, the only possible answer.

“Even the hospitals,” my mother said, a little dreamy, finding romance in everything now.

“The joke is that you can see San Michele from the wards-the cemetery island. So they say the doctors finish you and the priests at San Lazzaro bless you and the boat outside takes you away. One operation, door to door.” He winked at my mother. “You see how practical we can be.”

And so it went, through the grilled branzino, the radicchio from Trevisio, the little cups of coffee and the shared plate of biscotti-light, aimless conversation meant to make us easy with one another, a kind of wooing. My mother was happy, enjoying herself, her eyes shiny, catching the light the way her earrings did, in tiny glints. She made jokes, laughed at his, until the table seemed as carefree as one of those afternoons at the Lido. Gianni looked at her with a fondness that surprised and then disconcerted me. And I, who was the object of the wooing, sat wondering why they were bothering. What did it matter what I thought, if they wanted to make eyes at each other and play at being twenty again? What could be nicer? A season in Venice with something to talk about later, over drinks at the Plaza. An old friend, not somebody she’d picked up in a hotel lounge. With a daughter at the university. That respectable. What business was it of mine? The truth was that I didn’t want to think about them at all. My mind was elsewhere, back at the station hotel, in that perfectly hermetic world of sex, where no one else existed. In the warm dining room, with my body loose and tired, all I wanted was my own life.

When we got up to go to the lounge for brandy, I took it as my cue to leave. Gianni would want to sit with my mother in the dim light and look across the water to Salute, letting the evening settle around them. I imagined a kiss tasting of cognac, a last cigarette, low voices-everything the lounge was meant for, what you paid for. But when I suggested going, he insisted I stay for a nightcap. For some reason it took a while to order-everything seemed to have slowed down, even the waiters-and then we drank without saying much. There were only a few other people and a piano near the door, played so softly it seemed the pianist too was logy with food and drink. Gianni fixed a time next week for me to go to the hospital. He sat back with a cigarette, looking contented. Outside the hotel, gondolas with different-colored tarps bobbed on the tide. I slouched, exhausted. There was nothing to do now but wait it out.

“Such a surprise, darling. A lawyer. So sensible.”

“It’s just an idea,” I said, but she waved her hand, brushing it away, and I saw that she hadn’t actually been talking to me but to some unseen audience.

I looked over, hearing the abstract, self-amused talk of drink. My mother, like all her friends, had a strong head, but it had been a long evening since the first Prosecco, through Gianni’s special bottle of Soave and the vin santo at table. Her words were still precise, but everything else about her seemed to have grown a little blurry. Even her lipstick was no longer fresh, faint at the lines. She was nestled into the corner of the settee, her fur draped around her, smiling, in love with the world.

“It’s late,” I said. “We should go.”

“Oh, Adam,” she said, teasing. “So sensible.”

“If you’re tired,” Gianni said to me. “Don’t worry, I will take her home. She’s happy here, you see.”

“Maybe too happy,” I said to him, not loud enough for her to hear.

“There is no such thing as too happy,” Gianni said mildly. “I will see that she gets home.” Firmly, a dismissal. “Can I call you a taxi?”

“No, that’s all right,” I said, getting up. “Thanks for dinner.”

“Oh, you’re going,” my mother said, evidently a new idea to her. She leaned forward to be kissed.

I bent over for a quick peck, and as I stood back I stopped, suddenly dismayed, seeing once again what Gianni must be seeing, not a carefree girl this time but a woman slack with drink, pliable, draped against the couch, her soft white throat tilted up. What he’d waited for all evening, what came after brandy. Did he take a room here, part of the Monaco service? My heart sank a little as I looked at her, a physical drop. When had this happened, this fading into someone else? While I’d been away, not paying attention. And each year she’d become a little more vulnerable, until all it took was a kind word and table manners, someone like Gianni.

I looked at him, half expecting a leer, something predatory, but he was smiling blandly, at ease with himself. What he must be used to, another of the lonely women who floated through Venice, away from home, a little drunk, easy. Without daughters at university and family names. Without anything, except money to buy a little pleasure, an evening out. This one had come with a son-an inconvenience, but now he’d been charmed too, taken care of, and he was leaving. Would they come back to Dorsoduro? Appear at coffee in the morning without even a blush, all of us grown up?

For a second I stood there, trying somehow to put myself between them. It’s not what she is, I wanted to say to him, but wasn’t it? Isn’t it what she wanted too? Who had actually paid for dinner? I couldn’t remember there being a bill, the sort of discreet arrangement a lady might make. But how do you protect people? And after all, what was the harm? One of those things. Unless it wasn’t. I looked down at her again, wondering what bargain she was making with herself. A fling? But maybe she hadn’t even thought about it, just followed an impulse, the way she’d come to a city where she could read menus and street signs but whose real language was unknown to her.

“Darling, you say you’re going, then you don’t go,” she said, laughing.

I smiled, shaking my head. “Just thinking.”

“Oh, god.”

I held up my hand. “All right, I’m off. Don’t be too late,” I said, imitating her.

“You don’t have to worry,” Gianni said without a hint of guile. “She’s in safe hands.”

The next day I found a hotel near the Rialto with cheap off-season rates and a side view of the canal. The old-fashioned radiator in the room actually produced heat, a luxury that winter, so I took the room for a week, using a chunk of my separation pay. Not what the army had intended, precisely, but in fact the room did finally separate me from the war. Every afternoon we sealed ourselves away behind the fake damask walls, too absorbed in each other to imagine anything outside.

After that first day, we settled into a pattern. At one Claudia would walk over from the Accademia-ten minutes, if she hurried-and we would make love until she had to go back, dressing and leaving me in bed. I think it excited her to leave first, as if the room were in a brothel and she had somehow bought my time. She liked everything about the room-the touristy Murano chandelier, the chipped gold paint on the sideboard-because it seemed to her what such a room should look like, a little tawdry, worn from years of afternoon sex. She never came to my mother’s house and didn’t want me to go to hers. An affair was set apart from real life, something you did in hotels.

I had never had sex with anyone who responded the way she did, not just with pleasure or curiosity but the way I’d seen children eat in Germany, with a greedy determination to fill themselves up, not sure they would ever eat again. The afternoons were for both of us a kind of daily feast, sampling and tasting. Day after day in our cheap hideaway room, warm with radiator heat, we slid against each other, slick with sweat, until, finally exhausted, we felt the world begin to come back a little. Then she would dress and lean over to kiss me in the damp sheets, not saying good-bye but fixing a time for tomorrow, when we’d begin again. Days of it like this, drunk with sex.

We didn’t go out for dinner or have a drink at Harry’s or meet each other anywhere but at the hotel. At first she said she had to be careful, she didn’t want people at work to know, but after a while I realized the secrecy itself, the sense of being illicit, was erotic to her. When she closed the door to the hotel room, she could do anything, away from everyone, even herself.

Then, after a few days, the afternoons weren’t enough. I wanted to know where she went, how she spent her time. Wanted her, in fact, to spend it with me.

“I don’t want to go to restaurants. It’s nice the way it is.”

“But I want to talk to you. To know you.”

“Who knows me better than you? Do you think I’m like this with everyone?”

“I don’t mean that.”

“I know what you mean. I know you a little now too. You like the fans, the masks. Old Venice.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“You know, all the fans, that was to end up here,” she said, patting the bed.

“So maybe we missed something, skipping all that.”

She shook her head. “No.” She pulled me down to her. “Do you think we missed something?”

“No.”

“Then it’s enough. Here.”

“All I did was ask you to dinner,” I said, kissing her.

“I can eat anytime. Wouldn’t you rather do this?”

“Yes.”

But a few days later I got a chance to force the issue when my mother came down with a cold and Gianni, now the attending physician, offered me his seats at La Fenice.

“I’ve never been,” Claudia said, tempted.

“Let’s do it right. We’ll take a gondola.”

“Ouf. A gondola from San Isepo, with everyone at the window. I’ll take the vaporetto.”

“Then you’ll come?”

“I always wanted to see it, La Fenice.”

“Do you have something to wear? We can buy you a dress.”

“No, you don’t buy me a dress. I’m not-” She turned away. “I can dress myself. Even for La Fenice.”

I hired the gondola anyway and met her at San Marco, then maneuvered her into the rocking boat for the short trip through the back canals.

“You’re extravagant,” she said.

“You have to go this way. Where else can you do it? Pulling up to the opera in a boat?”

“You can also walk,” she said, but smiling as the dark houses glided by, surprised to see a different city from this angle. Under her wool coat she was wearing a long evening dress she said she had made herself, gloves, and rhinestone-studded slippers.

“Where’d you get the shoes?”

“Borrowed. A friend keeps them for Carnival every year.”

“Very fancy.”

“Vulgar?” she said, concerned.

I smiled at her. “No, fancy. Perfect.”

The canals got narrower after we drifted past the hotels and began to circle around to the Fenice water entrance. There was no sound but an occasional snatch of radio and the smack of the steering pole hitting the water. A light mist was rising, just high enough to soften the lights.

“My god, it’s beautiful like this,” she said. “No wonder they come.”

“You’ve lived here all your life.”

“Not in a gondola. It’s different.” She turned to me. “You make me a tourist.”

We turned a corner into a small lighted basin and one of those scenes that gives Venice its storybook quality-a traffic jam of boats rocking against one another as people stepped up to the pavement, the familiar taxi drop-off made theatrical by the water. After the shadowy canals, the lights here were festive, opening-night bright, catching jewels and white silk scarves.

“You see, it’s another city. People like that,” she said. A woman covered in white fur was being handed up to a footman.

“Never mind. They’ll all be looking at you. ‘Who’s that up there in the box?’ ”

“It’s a box? Whose?”

“A friend of my mother’s.”

“A rich American?”

“No, Venetian. Not rich either. A doctor.”

“My father was a doctor. He didn’t have a box at La Fenice.”

“This one had doges in the family.”

“Oo la. A doge’s box.”

I smiled at her. “You don’t believe me?”

“You, yes. Maybe not him.”

Then our gondola reached the entrance and I had to help her out and tip the gondolier, and her attention shifted to the crowd inside. We took the stairs to the second tier and followed the number plates to Gianni’s box. Every light in the theater seemed to be on, making the red-and-gold walls glow, almost burning. We were the first to arrive, so took the seats nearest the rail.

“Who else is coming?” Claudia said.

“I don’t know. Maybe he has the whole thing. Here, let me take your coat.”

“A minute,” she said, reaching into the pocket and pulling out a fan, then opening it, her eyes lowered in a mock flirtation over the edge. “Like this?”

“Where’d you get it?”

“With the shoes. A Carnival costume.”

“Not that, though,” I said, nodding at the brooch on the front of her dress.

“No, my mother’s. A friend hid it.”

“Hid it?”

“When I was away.”

She went to the edge of the box and leaned forward, taking in the scene like gulps of air. Below, people were settling in and looking around, nodding to one another, testing their opera glasses, everyone smiling, expectant.

“Look at them, like birds,” she said, her eyes darting around the theater.

I glanced down-the dresses in fact were as bright as feathers-then over at her. Her dress, a dark blue clinging fabric gathered at the waist, would have been dull without the pin, but it opened at the neck in a way that drew your eyes upward, toward the face, flushed and eager, and her hair had been pulled back, exposing her ears, making her look even younger. A different Claudia, girlish and wide-eyed, not the woman in the hotel room. How many others were there?

She caught my stare and pulled up the fan again, giggling, having fun.

“Oh, you brought glasses,” she said as I lifted them out of my pocket. “Can I see, please?” Suddenly twelve.

I watched her as she scanned the audience.

“There’s Rusconi, from the Accademia. My god, what a wife. Two of him. Do you think Signor Howard’s here?”

“No idea,” I said, still watching her, face tilted up now as she took in the upper tier.

“Where do they all come from?” she said. “You always hear it’s a small town, but I don’t know any of them.”

“Maybe it’s small to them. Same people.”

“The musicians are coming,” she said, almost fidgeting now with anticipation.

There was a final rustle of feathers below as the lights dimmed for the overture, then the music started and I moved my chair closer to hers. She was sitting erect, years of table manners and piano lessons, a well-brought-up girl. The back of her neck was pale and thin, and when I reached to touch it with my fingers, she turned with a shy smile, as if in fact we’d been flirting over fans.

The opera was Cosi fan tutte, and since the program notes were in Italian, beyond my guidebook vocabulary, I just sat back and listened, not even bothering to follow the story. Real fans and full-skirted gowns began to appear on the stage below, as natural there as the gilt-and-red wallpaper. How did they stage tragedies in a room like this? Nothing worse than mistaken identity and harmless jealousy could happen here. When Claudia leaned over to whisper, “They’re pretending to be Albanians,” I almost laughed out loud at the silliness of it, then felt a kind of giddy release. Even Claudia was smiling broadly, almost grinning, maybe the way she used to be all the time, after the piano lessons.

The four lovers were singing an ensemble piece when the door opened behind us. I turned to find a middle-aged woman in a prewar evening gown, trailed by a white-haired man with a bushy fur-collared coat, like the cartoon plutocrat on Monopoly cards. Everything about her was lacquered-glistening lipstick and nails, dress shiny with beadwork. She looked at us, her eyes moving from surprise to displeasure in a second, obviously put out to find strangers in her box. I got up, gesturing to my front-row seat, but she waved her hand in a kind of dismissal, pretending to be concerned about distracting the people next to us, and took the chair behind.

We spent the rest of Act I speculating about one another-only Claudia in all that rustling and craning of necks seemed to be paying attention to the opera-but it was only when the interval finally came that we could stand and introduce ourselves in the light. Their name was Montanari. I mentioned Gianni and insisted that the woman move to the front row, but she was interested only in Claudia now, literally going over her from head to foot, eyes cold and superior behind the public smile. Then she raised her head, finished, with that peculiar satisfaction of finding someone wanting. Claudia, who had started with a polite nod, moved back a little against the rail, caught by the woman’s gaze, her color suddenly draining away.

“Grassini,” the woman said carefully, repeating Claudia’s name as if she were trying to place her, the way her eyes had judged the rhinestone slippers cheap, the dress ordinary, everything somehow wrong.

And for a second I saw it too, not the young skin and high spirits that had made everything seem right before, but someone found out, in the wrong box. There are tiny moments that change the nature of things. I glanced at Signora Montanari, the withering, stupid eyes, and suddenly I wanted to fold up Claudia in some protective cape, safe, so that no one could look at her again. I touched her hand at the rail, asking her to read my face. Never mind about the dress, never mind about any of it. You’re not just someone I sleep with.

But Claudia’s color had come back and with it her assurance. “Yes, Grassini,” she said evenly. “Perhaps you knew my father, Abramo Grassini.”

The woman blinked. “Ah. Abramo. No.” She turned to me. “And you’re a friend of Gianni’s?” she said, still assessing.

“Yes,” I said easily. “He’s with a patient. I’m sorry about the seat. Will you have a drink with us?”

“No, no, we’re meeting some people.” She gathered up her cloak, eager now to leave. “Please,” she said, evidently offering us the run of the box.

“What was that all about?” I said when she’d left.

“She knows I’m a Jew,” Claudia said.

“Don’t be silly. How could she possibly know? She just doesn’t want to share the box.”

“No. She knows. Once you see the look, you don’t forget it.” She picked up the fan, opened it, and put it against her face. “Well, so much for this. Let’s go.” She reached for her coat.

“Later,” I said. “Right now we’re going downstairs and have some champagne. Then we’ll come back and listen to the rest.”

“She doesn’t want me here.”

“Well, I do. Would you rather please her?”

She looked up, a small smile. “One grandfather. It’s easy for you. But for me, it’s not-comfortable.”

“I’ll sit between you. Come on, let’s have some champagne.” I held out my hand to her. “Tell me the rest of the story. Why they’re pretending to be Albanians.”

Another smile.

“It’s our box,” I said, taking her hand. “We’re not leaving.”

In the end it was the Montanaris who left, midway through the second act, after Fiordiligi sang in the garden by the sea. Signora Montanari had taken the rail seat next to Claudia, and it may be that she finally realized, distressed, how they must appear from below-one young, her pale skin catching the stage lamps, the other expensive and brittle, attractive now only to men on Monopoly cards. Or it may be this was just my idea, the story I made up as Signor Montanari nodded off at my side. But when Fiordiligi finished and Signora Montanari made an apologetic headache motion and slipped out with her surprised husband under the applause, I felt as if we had won something. I moved down to the rail seat.

“We’ve run them off.”

Claudia shrugged, a wry smile. “One victory for the Jews.”

But she seemed happier now, relieved, and the music went with her, buoyant, heading into the finale. As things sorted themselves out onstage, something for everyone, it seemed to me that we had gotten our earlier mood back, frothy again, like the interval champagne.

Outside it was cold and damp, and I put my arm around her as we walked.

“You looked lovely, just sitting there, waiting it out like that.”

“It didn’t feel lovely. Bitch. Probably a Fascist too.”

“No, there aren’t any, haven’t you heard? Same thing in Germany. All disappeared somehow.”

“You think it’s funny.”

“No, but I spent months chasing them, so I know what it’s like. Anyway, she’s gone, so let’s have a drink. The Gritti’s right up here-they’ll be open.”

The street was filled with people coming from La Fenice, wrapped in coats and furs, like the shuttered stores.

“No, it’s late.”

“All right, I’ll take you home.”

“No,” she said, putting a gloved hand on my chest. “I’ll go. It was wonderful, the opera.” She looked up. “So, shall we meet tomorrow?”

“I want to go home with you.”

“Why? You can’t wait?”

“Not for that.” I stopped. “It’s not that.”

“What?”

I put my hand up to the side of her neck. “I don’t want to skip anything. I want to take you to dinner. Out, like this. I want to spend the night with you. See you sleep, what you look like. Wake up. Make coffee. All of it. Not skip anything.”

“Don’t say that,” she said softly, lowering her head. “I don’t want that.”

“Yes, you do. Everybody does.”

She shook her head. “No. I don’t.”

“You mean, not with me.”

She looked up, then turned away. “It’s not enough for you? Just to-”

“What?”

“You know.”

I smiled. Something she couldn’t say, not even in the hotel, where anything was possible. A well-brought-up girl.

“Go to bed,” she said, still not saying it. “It’s not enough?”

“No.”

“Ha. Since when? You were happy enough to-”

I brushed back a lock of her hair. “Things change. I want to be with you. That’s all.”

“No, I can’t,” she said, moving my hand away. “I don’t want anybody. Oh, what a judge I am. I see you, I think, yes, nice-looking, American. They never stay. They go home. No problems.”

“You want me to leave?”

She looked down, biting her lip. “No. Oh, it’s difficult.”

“Explain it.”

“Explain it. So easy. Some little talk over a drink.” She met my eyes. “I don’t want anything more. It’s better for me.”

“How could it be better?”

“It’s better. Safer.” She hesitated. “Sometimes, do you know what I think you see? Another one of your cases, back in Germany. You want to make everything all right again. Maybe that’s why you want to be with me. You think you can change what happened. But do you know how it really was? When people think you’re going to die, you don’t exist for them anymore. You disappear, become nothing. That first train, none of them even looked. I thought, this is what it’s like, there’s nobody else. Then not even you. So you live here,” she said, pointing to her skin. “And here.” Her eyes. “Food, whatever makes you feel alive. Reminds you what it’s like. Even pain sometimes. Just to feel it. But not here.” Now her chest. “Nothing here. You have to stay safe.”

“From what?”

“The others. Everybody. They’ll leave you alone if you’re playing dead. You think you can get through the rest of it if you do that. But then it’s hard coming back, you can’t do it all at once. Just seeing things. Eating. Simple things, that’s all I can do. Not people.”

“It’s not like that anymore.”

“Maybe yes, maybe no. Anyway, how do you know? It didn’t happen to you.”

“No.”

“To know that everyone wants you dead.”

“Your friend didn’t.”

“No, he didn’t want me dead. He wanted-” She stopped, then breathed out, almost a snort. “People. You know what he wanted? He wanted me to like it. It wasn’t enough for him, just to do it. He wanted me to like it. To like him. What he could do to me. He wanted to hear it.”

“So you pretended.”

“Well, we can do that. Make sounds. It’s what they like. So.” She looked down. “And then sometimes it would happen. Even with him. I could feel it in me, beginning, and I couldn’t stop it. With that pig. I’d feel it anyway-you couldn’t take your mind far enough away, it would happen. And he knew. He wanted it like that. At first I was so ashamed, and then-then it was a way of being alive. So I let it happen. Maybe that’s worse. Knowing it can happen with anyone. Like animals. So what does it matter who? Does it matter where food comes from? It’s all the same.”

“It doesn’t feel the same to me.”

“No?”

“No. It’s not like with anyone else.”

“Ha, how many-”

“Don’t,” I said, stopping her. “I’m not him.”

“No? You think it’s so different? You want me to like it too.”

“Yes.”

“All right, I do. I like it with you. So you can be happy. Tell your friends in New York.”

“I’m not him,” I said again, holding her shoulders. “It’s different.”

She looked down. “But I’m not. I’m the same. I’m the same. In Fossoli.”

“No. What happened to you-”

“It’s still happening to me. All those feelings. The hate. At first you want to kill all of them, and you can’t even kill one. Not one. And then you know what happens, I think? You start killing yourself. You have to kill someone and there’s no one else.”

“Stop,” I said, placing my finger in front of her mouth without touching it.

“Yes, stop,” she said. “What’s the good of all this?” She twisted her mouth. “Not what you expected, is it? Such talk. A girl you met at a party.”

“You’re not just a girl at a party.”

“Yes, I am,” she said, pretending to be light, but I was shaking my head. “No? What happened to her?”

“Signora Montanari looked at her dress.”

She met my eyes, a little startled, then looked down. “My poor dress. So, what happened then?”

“I knew I was in love with you.”

“Oh,” she said, only a sound, her head bent. “You don’t mean that,” she said quietly. “You don’t even know me.”

“Yes I do. Everything about you. Right then.”

“Oh, all in one look. You’re being-”

“I know. All right, not everything. Just enough.”

“What does it mean, to say something like that?”

“What it always means. I want to be with you.” I lifted her head. “I’ll take Italian lessons.”

She smiled weakly, her eyes troubled. “No. Go to America. Your life is there. Not all this.” She spread her hand. “But thank you. To say that. The opera, even. I didn’t expect-” She leaned and kissed me on the cheek, a flutter of breath. “It’s a good time to stop. While it’s all still nice.”

I reached for her, but she put her hand on my chest again.

“No, go.”

“I can’t walk away from you.”

“No? All right. Me, then,” she said, her hand trembling. She looked up. “Don’t follow. I’m all right on my own,” she said, then turned and started walking.

“I don’t believe you,” I said to her back. “I don’t believe it’s all the same for you.” No answer but the click of her heels on the stone. “Tell me it was the same.”

“Yes, the same,” she said, not turning around, still walking. Then she stopped, her shoulders drooping. A long quiet. “No,” she said finally.

I stood for a minute, then started moving toward her gently, as if she were a bird that still might be scared off. I stepped around to face her, not saying anything. She looked up, her eyes still uneasy.

“Not the same?” I said softly.

“No,” she said, the word not much more than a breath.

“Then let’s go home,” I said, stepping closer, our faces almost touching.

“You’re so sure. How can you be so sure about this?”

“We can get a taxi at the Gritti,” I said, putting my arms around her, feeling her head fall against my shoulder. “Is that all right, a taxi?”

She nodded, resting against me. “To the gardens. Not to the house. Signora Bassi, the owner, she lives there too. The noise-”

We were quiet in the taxi, as if Signora Bassi were already listening. The room was plain, up a staircase at the side of the house, overlooking the small misty canal and a back calle full of clotheslines. We stayed quiet in the room, not making love, just holding each other in bed. I did get to see her asleep, hours later, in the predawn when I usually tried to make out the Redentore and wonder how I was going to spend the day. Now in the light from the window all I could make out was the sewing machine and a dressmaker’s dummy, her own shape standing straight and purposeful, the way she had at Bertie’s party, and in some wonderful way I saw there were two of them now-the public, tailored Claudia at the window and the one only I knew, who’d stepped out of the dummy to crawl into the warmth beside me.

CHAPTER THREE

The library ceiling was as beautiful as Gianni had promised.

“Early sixteenth century,” he said, not a boast, just placing it. “The carving is the best in Venice, I think. Of course today it’s difficult to see.”

The morning had been dismal, and even the long side windows were not much help-the library seemed barely lit. But the ceiling turned the patchy light to its advantage, forcing you to look at it carefully, follow its intricate lines into shadow. Only Venice could have a hospital like this, a converted scuola grande whose facade was crowded with trompe l’oeil and marble panels. The entrance hall was a soaring space with pillars, as damp and gloomy as an old church, filled with the ghosts of shivering consumptives, but beyond it the working hospital was bright and up-to-date with wards and nurses’ stations and X-ray rooms, what you’d see anywhere. And now the old medical library, which Gianni had saved for last, a special finale.

“Not as grand as the Sansovino staircase,” he was saying, “but I think more beautiful. The proportions.”

“It’s wonderful. Is it still used?”

“In theory. In practice, no. Now it’s-a treasure.”

“Locked away,” I said as he closed the door and we started down the stairs.

“Yes. Otherwise-” His voice drifted off in the drafty hall, where families had begun to arrive for visiting hours.

“I feel privileged.”

Gianni accepted this with a nod, then smiled. “Good. And now, are you hungry?”

“I don’t want to take you away from your work.”

“No, no, it’s all arranged. A restaurant very near. We can talk.”

About what, I wondered, but Gianni was all smiles and affability, clearly wanting to please.

“Quite a hospital,” I said, looking at the facade again as we came out.

“Well, the scuola was suppressed-I can’t remember why-and so there was a big public building to use. Not so practical, maybe, for modern times, but in Venice nothing is practical, so you adapt. The facilities are good. And of course it’s pleasant, every day to see it.” He pointed to one of the reliefs. “Saint Mark helping Antinus.”

“Who?”

“A beggar in Alexandria. The series is Saint Mark’s life. But I always think if you didn’t know, it could be a doctor helping the sick. Appropriate, yes? Who knows? Maybe Lombardo had a presentiment that it would be a hospital.” He smiled. “Anyway, it’s an idea.”

“What happened during the war? I mean, was it a military hospital?”

“No. It was never a war zone here. You know, behind the lines it’s a kind of peace. Things keep going. The hospital too. There was always food. In the south, with the fighting, it was different. Terrible shortages. Here at least no one starved, we could manage.” We were crossing a bridge out of the campo, and he indicated the houses on the other side of the canal with their running sores of fallen plaster. “But no paint, no wood, nothing like that. See there? No repairs, not for years. The city is falling apart. Of course the visitors, for them it’s always falling apart, they love the decay. Your mother thinks that. Don’t fix it, it’s all part of the charm. Well, maybe it’s lucky for me she thinks that way. At my age, I’m falling apart too.”

I laughed, the expected response.

“You know we have become good friends,” he said.

I kept walking, not sure how I was meant to answer.

“She has a gift for that, I think. A rare quality. To make people happy. Here we are.”

He turned toward a door. No getting out of it now. But what excuse could I have found?

The restaurant was in the little campo that faced Santa Maria dei Miracoli. In summer there would be tables outside, people writing postcards and looking up at the marble walls. Now it was a poky room with a bar in front and just enough space in back to be intimate without being noisy. Gianni was evidently a regular, known to the waiter.

“You like granchi?” Gianni said to me. “He says it’s the special today.”

“Yes, fine,” I said, toying with my fork, already uncomfortable.

“Wine? I can’t, but if you like-”

“No, water’s fine.”

For a minute or so we watched the waiter pour the mineral water.

“I’m glad we have the chance,” Gianni said, “to meet like this.” Leaning forward, opening.

“Yes, thank you,” I said, steering away. “For the ceiling especially. I never would have seen it otherwise. By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask-who are the Montanaris?”

His forehead wrinkled for a second, then cleared. “Ah, in the box. Who are they? They made an impression on you?”

“The other way around. I don’t think they approved. They left early.”

Gianni laughed again. “They always leave early. They come for the interval, to see her friends. The music?” He brushed away the idea with his hand. “Ah, the crabs,” he said, leaning back for the waiter.

“I just wondered who-” I began, but he’d moved on from the Montanaris, speaking before I could finish.

“I wanted to talk to you,” he said and then stopped. He sipped some water, hesitant, as if he were putting the words together in his head. “You know I admire your mother very much.”

I waited.

“Very much,” he said again. “We have a love for each other. This seems strange to you, maybe. At your age, I remember, it is impossible to think this happens after-what? Thirty? Forty? To have these feelings. But we do. Sometimes even more so. We can’t be so careless anymore, we know how valuable, to find someone. You’re embarrassed, that I’m talking this way to you?”

“It’s not that.”

“Yes, embarrassed, I think. It’s my English. What I want to say-”

“Look, the point is, you don’t have to say anything. If you and my mother-it’s none of my business.”

“But now, yes. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. It is your business now. We want to marry.”

“What?” Blurting it out, as if I hadn’t heard properly.

“Yes, to marry. You’re surprised?”

“But why?” I said, another involuntary response, not even thinking.

“Why? Because we have a love for each other.”

“Yes, but-I mean, why not just go on as you are?” While it lasts.

“You don’t understand my feelings for her. Do you think I have no respect for her position?” Affronted, as if I’d stepped over some cultural divide.

“It hasn’t bothered you up to now.”

He raised his eyebrows, then softened. “That’s what you think-I take advantage. You know, we are not children. Maybe it was-a convenience for both. Now it’s something else.”

“When was all this decided?”

He shrugged. “Some days ago now. You don’t decide all at once.”

“And she didn’t tell me?”

“Don’t be angry with her. I wanted to tell you. She was a little nervous, how to say it. And you know, it’s traditional,” he said, smiling, “for the man to approach the family.”

“You’re asking for my blessing?”

“I’m asking you to be happy for us. It’s important to Grace for you to be happy. It’s important to me too.”

This last was a question. He was looking at me, waiting for me to nod, give some assent.

“When is all this supposed to happen?”

“As soon as we can arrange it. While you are still here.”

“And you’ll live here?”

“Of course. It’s my home. And now yours, whenever you like. I know you’ll be in America, but you’ll come back sometimes. Where we live there is always a home for you too.”

On her money. The thought, always buried somewhere, now flashed to the surface. Would they stay at Ca’ Venti? No, he must have his own, the family house, plaster crumbling, untended these last few years. The daughter with bills in Bologna. Cognacs at the Monaco. All paid for now, taken care of with the scratch of her pen across a check. He was smiling at me again, intimate, the same easy charm that must have taken her in. Gray hair, sober suit, not even young-no warning signals at all.

“You don’t say anything.”

“I’m just trying to-it’s a lot in one gulp. I didn’t expect-”

“You know, neither did we. Not at first.”

“It all just seems a little fast. To decide something like this. I mean, it’s only been-” I let it hang there, waiting for him to finish, but instead he smiled again.

“Only the young have so much time. At our age it’s better to hurry. And you know, the wedding, that’s your mother’s idea, to have it before you go back to America. She wants you to-such an expression-to give her away.”

“The father does that.”

“Well, the family. Why not the son?”

I shrugged.

“Good. She’ll be pleased.”

But it was Gianni who was pleased, smiling broadly, and I realized that in his mind I had somehow consented, given in, and could now be brought into the planning. There would be an engagement party. A friend had offered to perform the ceremony. I picked at my crab and half listened to one detail after another, the whole impossible scheme already worked out, discussed while I’d been somewhere else. Now there was nothing to be said.

And later? I saw the sensible talk with my mother back at Ca’ Venti, straining to stay calm, the inevitable hysterics. Bertie would be better-one of his bracing heart-to-hearts. I wondered if he already knew, could get to her before things spun completely out of control and sense became a kind of public embarrassment.

Gianni was ordering espresso, another endless meal, and talking about a trip. But perhaps it was better just to stay in Venice. There were so many details to arrange. To get the house ready for my mother, repairs he wanted to make, a new decorating scheme they’d discussed. It might be better to go away later, a long trip, somewhere new. What they must have talked about over brandies, their new life together.

“Maybe even America,” Gianni was saying. “It’s many years now since I was there. Many changes.”

She’d give a party to introduce him to her friends. The whispered conversations later: Did you see what Grace picked up in Italy? No longer just impulsive, a figure of fun.

“I went all the way across to California. A wonderful country.”

He had put some bills on the saucer and was standing up, smiling at me.

“And now Americans in the family,” he said airily, and as I folded my napkin, trying to smile back, I felt the real implications of his news rush over me, like a prickling of the skin. Not just a folly, not just one of those things. All our lives changed, one way or another.

Outside, the sun was shining just enough to brighten the marble on the church. We started back toward the hospital, Gianni full of more plans. I tried to keep up, an eggshell politeness, but my mind was elsewhere, so distracted that I didn’t even look at the group of GIs coming over the bridge, just felt the sudden hand on my shoulder.

“Hey, Adam? I didn’t recognize you in your civvies.”

I blinked for a second, taking in the breezy American voice, the sound of my own life coming back.

“Joe. What are you doing here?”

“Seeing the sights. I’m over in Verona, but they let us out once in a while.”

“Still chasing rats?”

“Rat files. Some of Kesselring’s boys. They come up for trial next month and they left a paper trail all the way to Verona, so somebody’s got to look. You know. But you-what is it, a month now? Two? What the hell are you still doing over here?”

“My mother lives here.”

“Lives here? People live here?”

“For now, anyway,” I said, then stopped, suddenly aware of Gianni at my side. “Oh, sorry. Joe, this is Dr. Maglione. He’s-” Who was he now, exactly? My mother’s fiance? My new stepfather? Looking at Joe’s open GI face, I felt Gianni’s foreignness for the first time. Was she prepared for this? Years of not quite getting jokes, living half in translation. “A friend of my mother’s,” I said. “Gianni, Joe Sullivan.”

“Lieutenant,” Gianni said, decoding the bar on his collar and shaking his hand. “You see, people do live here, a few of us.”

“Sorry. I didn’t-”

“Oh, no. Sometimes even I think we’re all visitors here. Of course, Verona, it’s different. You’re enjoying it there?” Now he was charming Joe, second nature.

“Well, enjoying. It beats Germany, anyway.”

“You were friends in the army?”

“G-2. Bloodhound detachment. Sniffing for Nazis. Happy days, huh?” he said to me.

“Every single one. When do you get out?”

“Never. They like my accent. Maybe June, though. Memphis in June, like the song says.” He glanced at the group behind him, too large to introduce. “Well, I’d better push. Live here. I wish I’d known-cadge a bed next time.”

“You need one tonight?”

“No, that’s all right. We got a special deal at the Bauer. Can’t get away from the krauts, huh?” he said, grinning. “Come have a beer if you can. We’re there a few days. Nice meeting you,” he said to Gianni. He jerked his thumb toward the city behind him. “Quite a place you’ve got here.”

Gianni didn’t react, just watched him go, then started again for the hospital.

“He’s a good friend?”

“We worked together.”

“Finding the Nazis. That’s who decides?”

“He just finds them. Someone else decides.” I paused. “He likes to kid around. But he’s not as dumb as he sounds.”

“I didn’t mean-well, perhaps a little. The world is simple for him.”

“Sometimes it is simple.”

“You think so? I never find it that way. Look at us. We have lunch. Happy news. But for you I think not so simple-a little difficult, even. Who is this man? You worry about your mother. Yes, you do. It’s natural. What can I say to make you feel easy? There hasn’t been time for us to become friends. Later, I hope. For now, I only ask you to be happy because we are happy.”

“If she’s happy, fine.”

“But you are still uneasy,” he said, watching me as we walked.

“I just don’t understand the why of it. Why not-be the way you are.”

“And not marry, you mean. Why marry now, so late? Not for children, to make a family. Not for-what? Propriety? We don’t have to be respectable, your mother and I. No one cares. Not even you, it seems.” A half smile. “So why? I wish I could tell you exactly. Sometimes I think to marry is a kind of insurance.”

“What, for old age? If one of you dies?” Another thing I hadn’t considered. What if?

“No, not so pragmatic. I think a way to ensure the love does not go away. To make it feel permanent.”

“Even if it’s not?”

“Sometimes, you know, it is. Don’t you wish this for us?”

I hesitated, embarrassed, but we were coming down the bridge into the campo and Gianni turned to me, not waiting for an answer.

“It’s late for us to be a family. You don’t need a father, I don’t ask that. But your mother must have her son. So you and I, we must try to be friends. Will you do that?”

“Of course. I never said-”

“No, but how you feel, that’s something else.”

I looked away. “How does your daughter feel?”

“Well, that’s next. I do the warm-up on you.” He smiled, amused either by the phrase or by the idea that I was the easier of the two. “She will be suspicious. Who is this woman? What does she want? Like you, but the reverse, the other side. You see, nothing is simple when there are two sides.”

“And there are always two.”

“At least. But all of them smiling at the wedding, eh?” He took my hand. “Be easy. Everything will be fine. You have my word.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” I said pleasantly, meeting his eyes.

He nodded and turned toward the hospital. I started across the square, relieved to get away, but when I was past the equestrian statue I glanced back over my shoulder and saw that he had stopped to look back too. We stood for a minute like that, turning the space between us into a mirror, watching each other.

As it happened, Mimi had come to lunch at Bertie’s and was still there when I arrived.

“Adam,” Bertie said. “You might have let me know. There’s not a crumb left.”

“No, I’ve eaten.”

“How’s Grace?” Mimi said, kissing my cheek.

“Flourishing.”

“So they say,” she said, her eyes almost twinkling. “Have you met him?”

“Yes.”

“You’re just dropping in, then?” Bertie said, slightly annoyed.

“Darling, don’t be dense,” Mimi said. “Too late for lunch, too early for a drink. He wants to chat. Which means I’ll be in the way, so I’d better be going.” She turned to me. “Maybe you can talk some sense into him. He’s being pigheaded, as usual. Won’t help with the ball. Won’t even come. Pigheaded.”

“And you’re being wicked,” Bertie said, pecking her on the cheek. “A ball, during Lent.”

“Yes, and they’re all dying for a break. Everyone’ll come, you’ll see.”

“Not everyone.”

“Hm. You and the Holy Father, fasting at home. It’s too ridiculous. You know you’re dying to come.”

Bertie smiled. “It’s a close-run thing. Very bad of you to tempt.”

“All right, I’m off.” She gathered up her purse and gloves, looking at me. “So what’s he like? I’m dying to know.”

“Who?”

“Who. Dr. Kildare.”

“Oh, Gianni. He’s too old for you,” I said, kissing her good-bye.

A throaty laugh, flirtatious. “Bertie, I’ve been dismissed. He must have got that from you. That out-the-door charm. What if I got the monsignor to come? Would that make a difference?”

Bertie was walking her out of the room. “Not even the pope. It’s a matter of principle.”

“Darling, aren’t you funny? How would you know?” She turned at the door. “Don’t bother, Elena’s there. Adam, talk to him. He just wants coaxing.”

When she was gone, Bertie came back to the coffee table and lit a cigarette.

“Two hours and I’m exhausted. I don’t know how she does it-she must sleep the rest of the time. Now, what’s on your mind? Barging in like this. Only happy thoughts, I hope.”

“Very happy. They think so, anyway. They’re getting married.”

“Who?”

“My mother and Dr. Kildare.”

“You’re joking,” he said, putting down the cigarette, not just surprised but shaken.

“That’s what I thought when he told me at lunch. But no. Death do us part. Surprised?”

For a minute he said nothing, just stared at the smoke drifting up. “Marriage,” he said, still taking it in. “The Magliones, any of those families-you know they don’t marry out of-”

“Unless they’ve got a helluva repair bill to take care of.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Money. We can whisper if it bothers you.”

He glanced up, annoyed.

“Sit down and behave yourself. What’s gotten into you?”

“You don’t like it either,” I said, sinking onto the couch. “I can tell just by looking at you.”

“I’m surprised, that’s all.” He handed me the cigarette box. “Here. Now let’s take a breath and think a bit. This would come after Mimi-one’s head just keeps buzzing. Why marriage?”

“They’re in love.”

“Adam.”

“And there’s her money.”

“Oh, I don’t think so somehow.”

“But do you know? If he were American, I’d know a hundred things about him. All those clues people carry around. But here-how much does he have?”

“No idea. One doesn’t, in Italy. I’m not sure why. In France you know right away. Of course, there is the palazzo, you know. He’s not on the dole.”

“Which they never sell. Just try to keep up.”

“You’ve been reading things. Of course they sell. How do you think I got mine?” He watched me light my cigarette. “That’s better. Get some color back. You can’t stay shocked, you know.”

“But you were. Why? Don’t you like him?”

“Like him?” he said, uncomfortable. “He’s my doctor. What does like have to do with it?”

“You invite him to your house.”

“He doesn’t pee on the carpet, Adam. He’s a Maglione. Anyway, we were all young together. Your mother, Gianni, his brother-”

“Cozy.”

He looked over his lunettes. “Not like that. Grace adored your father. There was never any question of that.” He paused. “Do you think all the time Gianni-? Hard to imagine him-” He drew on the cigarette, back on the Lido again.

“A long time to carry a torch, don’t you think?”

“All these years,” he said to himself.

“What else?”

“ What what else?”

“I don’t know. Who he is, what he thinks about things.”

“How would I know? He had a wife who died-of natural causes,” he said with exaggeration, raising his eyebrows. “He has a daughter, I think, whom I’ve never seen. An old name. As for what he thinks about things, I haven’t the faintest. Why don’t you ask him yourself? After all, he’s going to be your stepfather, not mine.” He stopped, looking slightly embarrassed, not having meant to become snappish.

“Five minutes ago you were shocked-surprised,” I said quickly, catching his glance. “Now you’re throwing rice.”

“What exactly is it you expect me to do?”

“Talk to her.”

“Talk her out of it, you mean. No. In the first place, people never listen.”

“She’d listen to you.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I wouldn’t even try. She’d never speak to me again. And she’d be right.”

“But it’s possible it’s the money, isn’t it?”

He looked at me, not answering, then lit another cigarette. “Anything’s possible,” he said, then sighed. “You know, it’s possible she’s in love with him.”

“Or something.”

“Well, call it whatever you like. I’m not shy. But she’s happy. So what does it matter?”

“It will. When she realizes.”

“Now I want you to listen to me,” he said. “Very carefully.” He paused, waiting for me to look at him. “If you have any sense, you’re going to take your- qualms, and leave them right here in this room.” He patted the cushion next to him. “Your mother has been lonely for years. And a grown son off fighting the war isn’t much of a substitute- which you don’t want to be, by the way. She comes here, not even sure why, and now she’s in love, or infatuation, or whatever she’s in. Happy for the first time in years. It doesn’t really matter if he’s in love with her or in love with her money. He obviously has some regard for her. The family name’s important to a Maglione. You don’t give it to someone if all you want is a bank loan. He’ll give her a life and he’ll make her happy, whatever his motivations are. And that’s assuming he knows what they are. Do you know yours?”

“I don’t want her to get hurt, that’s all.”

“Well, very nice, if that’s all. It rarely is, in my experience. But never mind. Just pack it up with whatever else is floating around up there,” he said, pointing to my head, “and put it away. He’ll never desert her, you know, not if she’s Signora Maglione, and if he-well, everybody goes through a rough patch sooner or later. But you never know. And here’s a chance and she’s taking it.”

“Even if she breaks her heart doing it.”

“Oh, hearts. They can take a lot of wear and tear. Adam, don’t meddle. She wants you to be pleased. Go home and tell her you’re thrilled to death.”

I got up, walked over to the windows, and looked out at the loggia where you sat on warm days to watch the boats. A city so beautiful even the Germans agreed not to fight in it. What she’d have every day.

“It might be all right, you know,” Bertie said. “It really might.”

I walked back to the couch. “Will you do something for me? Find out what money he has. You can ask around. You know everybody.”

“Not his banker, I don’t. And everything else is just gossip. Let’s hope for the best, why don’t we? Now smile. She’ll be watching your face, to see how you’re taking it.”

I made a face.

“Well, it’s a start.” He giggled to himself. “Mimi. Goodness, she’ll be cross. Now there’s a face I’d like to see.” He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, then looked at me. “Adam, I’m right, you know.”

“So am I.”

“And if you are, what’s the good of it?”

I said nothing.

“None at all,” he said quietly. “Not for her.”

“Would you find out about the money anyway?”

“And if he’s poor as a church mouse?”

“Then we’ll know.”

“Yes, and you’d be right. And still wrong for her.” Bertie sighed. “What a scourge children are.” He stood up. “You’d better go. She’ll be waiting to hear how lunch went. Smiles all around, right? Happy Families. It’s done.”

CHAPTER FOUR

Things went wrong with the party from the start. There were no flowers to be found, not even the scraggly winter asters you usually saw in the Rialto market. The weather had cleared and then turned sharply cold, the wind rushing up the Giudecca channel and through the window cracks until even the space heaters felt cool to the touch. One of the power cuts that plagued Italy that season hit in the afternoon, plunging the kitchen into gloom just as Angelina, sneezing with her permanent cold, was trying to arrange the canapes. After I spent an hour rounding up candles, the lights, perversely, sputtered back on, but since there was no guarantee they’d stay on, I spent the whole evening glancing up nervously, Noah waiting for rain.

My mother noticed none of it. Her skin glowed pink, part bath steam, part happiness, while everyone around her turned slowly blue and rubbed their hands by the ineffectual heaters. She looked wonderful-a new dress with a sequined bolero jacket, hair up, every bit of her in place-and as I watched her move through the room, smiling, pecking cheeks, I thought for a minute that everything had to be all right. How could she be this happy otherwise? Gianni, next to her in a double-breasted gray suit, was smiling too, switching from English to Italian and back again, everybody’s friend.

There were Venetians tonight, not just Bertie’s set, and I had a glimpse of what my mother’s world would be like now-Mimi winking over her martini glass, but also the formally polite whitehaired woman holding out her hand for Gianni to kiss, proper as a doge. I wondered how long it could last, the romance of it, and then I looked at my mother’s face, beaming, and thought, why not forever? Wasn’t it what everyone wanted? The fairy tale with no glass slipper.

On her bedroom dressing table I had noticed there were now two pictures, me on one side, in front of a jeep in Germany, and Gianni on the other, bareheaded in the cold on the Zattere. One more than before, not competing, not replacing, just one more. Why not be grateful he’d come along to fill the extra space? Why shouldn’t we all be happy? Even the party, for all the cold and spotty electricity, was working now. Except that Claudia hadn’t arrived.

“No, don’t pick me up-I’ll come by myself. You’ll be busy,” she’d said, but where was she? “I don’t think we should walk in together.” Still reluctant. And now late.

I took another champagne from a passing tray.

“Who are you looking for?” Bertie said.

“Hello, Bertie. I thought you didn’t go out during Lent.”

“I’ll say my beads later. I couldn’t miss this. You should have heard Mimi. Hissing like a puff adder. Oh, these ladies.”

“So she knows?”

“Everybody knows. Grace never kept a secret in her life. But do admit, have you ever seen her looking so well? Not in years.”

“Happy as a bride,” I said, taking a sip of champagne.

He looked over his glasses at me. “And you, have you been smiling?”

“Nonstop,” I said, nodding. “Seen the ring?”

“You haven’t tried to bite it.”

I laughed. “No, it’s real. Family, apparently. His mother’s.”

“Very nice,” Bertie said, then sighed. “Oh dear. But she does look radiant, doesn’t she? So where’s the harm? Now what? Not speeches.”

There had been a tinkling against glass, the usual rippling ssh, people clustering. Gianni stood with my mother, waiting for quiet, then began speaking in Italian, presumably a welcoming toast, received with a few ahs and general approval. I just let it roll past me, that indistinct liquid sound of someone else’s language, and looked again around the room. Where was she? He paused-were we supposed to applaud? — and then started to repeat the speech in English: thanks to us for being there, the reason no surprise to anyone who’d seen them together, the wonderful, unexpected thing that had come into his life, their double good fortune, of which this speech was an example, in being able to express joy twice, in Italian and English, the honor she had bestowed on him, their hope that all of us would be as happy as they were. All said nicely, charmingly, every note on key. More ahs, raised glasses, a public kiss, and, finally, applause.

“Well, it’s done,” I said, raising my glass to Bertie. “Cheers.”

“God bless.” He took a drink.

“Now what?”

“Kiss the bride,” he said, pointing to the group forming around my mother.

“They’re not married yet.”

We were starting toward the other end of the room when Claudia came through the door. She looked slightly flushed, as if she’d run up the stairs, and the color made her pretty, more striking than her muted blue dress intended.

“Hello, there’s Claudia,” Bertie said, surprised. “With whom, I wonder.”

“Me, actually,” I said, suddenly feeling awkward. He turned to me, eyes peering over his glasses, assessing.

“Really,” he said.

“We met at your party. You remember.”

“And now you’ve become friends.”

“Yes.”

He shook his head. “What a family. The guests aren’t safe with either of you. Next you’ll be running off with the help.”

I smiled. “Not yet. Excuse me,” I said, about to head for the door.

“Adam,” he said, stopping me, voice lower. “You’re not serious about this.”

“Bertie, some other time? She doesn’t know anyone in the room.”

“Well, no, she wouldn’t, would she?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Oh, don’t snap. I just meant it might not be suitable, bringing her here. What will Grace think?”

“She’ll think we’re friends.”

Bertie sighed. “Never mind. It’s always talking to a post, isn’t it? Just have a care, that’s all. You don’t want things to get complicated. Rush into things.”

“Tell her,” I said, nodding toward my mother, still hugging people. Bertie followed my gaze.

“Well, Grace.” His face softened with fondness. “She’s not the type, is she, to look behind things? We’ll have to keep an eye out for her. She was always like that, you know. Always wanted watching. So one does, somehow.” He turned back to me. “But I can’t take on two.”

Claudia was still near the door, looking tentative. When I finally pushed my way through the crowd, she smiled, relieved, then retreated again when I kissed her.

“Not here,” she said.

“It’s all right, no one’s looking.”

“But in public.”

“Come meet my mother.”

She touched her hair. “Where is the ladies’ room?”

“You look fine.”

“No, not for that. For the toilet.”

I laughed. “Sorry. Downstairs. Come on, I’ll show you.”

But before we could move out of the room, Mimi came over, martini glass in hand.

“Adam, there you are.” A cheek kiss. “Are you making a speech too?”

“I’m saving it for the wedding.”

“Thank god for that,” she said, then looked expectantly at Claudia.

They nodded to each other as I introduced them.

“Where has Adam been hiding you? I hope he’s bringing you to my ball. If he doesn’t, I’ll ask you myself,” she said to Claudia.

“Thank you,” Claudia said, not sure how to respond.

“Oh, purely selfish. Try finding anyone under forty these days. Though I must say,” she said, turning to me, “Grace looks ten years younger. Ten years. I suppose that’s love?” Her voice arched up.

“I suppose.”

“Maybe we should all try it. Except I have. Much good it did me.” She glanced again at Claudia. “But how long have you-?”

“We met at Signor Howard’s,” Claudia said, placing us.

“Bertie, the old cicerone. Lucky he didn’t match you up with a priest,” she said to me. “What can it mean, all the padres? In and out, all day long. What do they talk about?”

“What’s new on the Rialto.”

“Just like-chums. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? To me they still seem-I don’t know, something you see on the bus, not anyone you’d ever meet. Of course, Marian says in Rome it’s nothing but. Priests everywhere. But that’s Rome. I’m sorry,” she said to Claudia, “I hope I’m not-”

“No, no.”

“Thank god. I’m forever getting myself into trouble. You say the first thing that comes into your mind and then you see the faces. Not like you, darling. Always so careful.”

“Am I?”

“Grace says you’re thrilled. I thought, really? Or is he just being his usual diplomatic self? Our own little nuncio.”

“Why shouldn’t I be thrilled?”

“No reason in the world,” she said, a quick return. We looked at each other for a minute.

She turned to Claudia. “You will come, won’t you? To my ball? It’s going to be very special, like the ones before the war. Modern dress-I hate period. Carnival’s the worst. Those wigs, all itchy and hot. You wonder how they stood it. Oh, here she comes. Clever Grace.” A smile for my mother, making her way toward us.

“Excuse me,” Claudia said. “A moment.” She slid away from us and darted down the stairs.

“Adam,” Mimi said, her voice low, no longer chirping, “what’s all this?”

“Ladies’ room. She’ll be back.”

“No, this.” She wagged her finger between me and the spot where Claudia had stood. “The way she looks at you.”

“Does she?” I said, grinning.

“Don’t gloat.” She looked at me and laughed.

Then my mother was there and Claudia was put aside. There was someone she wanted me to meet. Mimi wanted to know about the caviar, which you couldn’t get in London now for love or money. Gianni knew a man who got it from Russia somehow. I smiled, thinking about the old Venetian trading routes, evidently still going strong. We had more champagne. My mother was happy. Where was Claudia?

I started down the stairs to check and stopped halfway, spotting her over the rail. There was no one else in the hall, and in the quiet she was standing at the water entrance, brooding, looking across the moldy landing stage to the canal. My mother had had the arched doorway opened and the steps lined with torches, in case anyone wanted to arrive by water, but no one had. Instead the lights flickered on the lonely utility boat we kept there and a jumble of paving stones covered with a tarp, once intended to repair the landing steps but abandoned by the marchesa until some money was found. In the cold, Claudia’s breath steamed.

“Get lost?” I said, coming up to her.

“It’s like a dungeon. So damp.”

“I know. Even at low tide the steps get covered now. Come on, you’ll catch cold.”

“What did she say about me?”

“Mimi? She likes the way you look at me.”

“Oh yes? Well, it’s the suit.” She reached out, smoothing my lapel.

“Ah,” I said, leaning over to kiss her.

“Wait. They’ll see,” she said, glancing into the hall.

I reached over and closed the door. “Better?”

We kissed for a few minutes, her hand at the back of my neck. Through the door we could hear the party going on, making it all somehow like sneaking kisses in a closet. Then after a while the sounds receded, as if we had left the house, and all we could hear was the slap of water against the landing stairs and our own breathing, loud in our ears, almost panting. The torches sputtered, making shadows.

“We don’t have to stay.”

“No, how can we leave? They saw me.”

“We can take the boat.”

“Oh, yes. On the lagoon. In the night.”

“Just follow the channel markers,” I said, still kissing her.

She stopped, pushing me away and breathing deeply, then smiled. “You’re the one who wanted me to come.”

I leaned my face into her neck. “I don’t know what I was thinking. We’ll stay here until the torches go. Look what they do to your skin,” I said, taking her chin and tilting her head so that her neck was caught in the light, golden. “Bertie says you’re complicated.”

“No, you,” she said, arching her neck as I kissed it. “You make it complicated. I was happy in the hotel. Everything was simple. Now look.” She pulled away, smiling. “We have to see Mama. Am I all right?” she said, touching her face. “Smeared?”

I took out a handkerchief. “Here, blot. Then you’re perfect.”

“See if there’s anyone out there. Think how it looks, coming out of the boat room.”

I laughed but peeked first, then motioned her forward to the stairs.

Either we had become accustomed to the torchlight or the electricity had finally come back at full strength, but the piano nobile seemed brighter than before, the big chandeliers blazing. My mother saw us over Gianni’s shoulder and smiled, breaking away from the group.

“Darling, at last. I was wondering where-”

“Claudia, you know my mother. And this is Dr. Maglione,” I said, but I saw that she knew him too. Her eyes went suddenly wide in recognition, then closed down, her whole face twisting. She glared at me, accusing, as if I had set a trap, then turned back to Gianni, breathing heavily, someone recovering from being kicked. The moment was one-sided. Gianni, smiling broadly, didn’t know who she was.

“How nice you could come,” my mother said, playing hostess, but Claudia ignored her, moving closer to Gianni and speaking Italian, her voice low, her mouth still twisted in a kind of sneer.

Gianni stepped back, as if the words were a physical assault, and answered her in Italian, quick and sharp.

“ Assassino! ” she said, louder, and then “ Assassino! ” almost yelling.

People nearby turned. My mother, pale, looked at me frantically. But Gianni had started to talk again, so fast that the words went by me in a blur.

“You thought we were dead,” Claudia said in English. “All of us dead. Who would know? But not all. Not all. Assassino! ” she said again, this time quieter, with contempt.

I looked at her face-someone else, unrecognizable. Now it was Gianni who raised his voice, upset, caught somewhere between scolding and fighting back. The people around us had begun to look uneasy, the foreigners, not understanding, thinking they’d blundered into a scene of volatile Italians, the Italians embarrassed, shocked by what they were hearing. I tried to follow, helpless.

“ Assassino,” Claudia said again, then “Murderer,” and for an odd second, hearing both words, I thought of Gianni’s speech, two languages.

Gianni answered, then stepped forward to grab her elbow, clearly intending to take her out of the room. The touch, just a graze, triggered something in her. She wrenched herself away from his hand and reached up to his face, clawing at it, shouting at him again. He grabbed her wrists and pulled her away, leaving scratch marks on his face. I heard a gasp. He held her for a moment like that, hands up in the air, away from his face, letting her body wriggle but holding her hands still, until finally she spat at him and, shocked, he dropped her hands.

No one moved. I saw the spittle gleam on his cheek, the stunned faces around us, Claudia heaving, a hysterical intake of breath. She looked at me, her eyes filling with tears, and then around, aware for the first time of the rest of the room, the appalled guests. Gianni hadn’t moved. “ Assassino,” she whispered one last time. Then she let out a sound, a kind of whimper, and turned to the stairs. She started to run, the darting movement like a signal to everyone else to come back to life, out of the stopped moment, the room noisy all at once with talk.

“What in god’s name-?”

“But what were they saying?”

My mother was daubing Gianni’s face with a handkerchief. “Adam, I don’t understand. Your friend-”

“She’s your friend?” Gianni said to me. “She’s a crazy woman.”

“My god, look at you,” my mother said. “Does it hurt?”

“No, no.”

I looked toward the stairs, but the crowd had swallowed her up, cutting me off.

“It’s a Jewish matter,” an Italian said, translating for another guest.

“What Jewish matter? Why Gianni?”

“Her father. It’s a confusion.”

“Well, yes, it must be, I suppose.”

But what confusion? I looked at Gianni, now surrounded, then started pushing through the crowd. “Adam,” I heard my mother say, but I was moving frantically now, down the stairs.

“Claudia!” I shouted, but when I got to the bottom no one was in the hall except one of the maids, standing in front of the makeshift cloakroom with Claudia’s coat over her arm. She glanced at me, alarmed, then toward the open door. I raced down the hall and grabbed the coat.

Outside, there was no sign of her, just the dark back calles of Dorsoduro. But she wouldn’t go to Salute, a dead end. I headed toward the Accademia, trying to pick up the sound of heels, anything, going faster at the corners, where there were little pools of light. At Foscarini I looked left, toward the Zattere. Then I saw a figure in the other direction, running past the Accademia to the vaporetto stop.

“Claudia!” I yelled, but she didn’t even turn around, determined simply to get away. I ran toward the lights of the floating dock, the coat flapping in my arms. The boat was loading, almost done, but it was going in the wrong direction, up the canal, not down to San Marco and home. She’d wait for the right one. But she didn’t. She looked over her shoulder and ran up the gangplank, the last one on before the crew pulled it back and caught the ropes. I could see her take a seat in the glassed-in section, hunching into herself.

Now what? She’d get off on the other side of the canal and head back. But the next stop was still on this side, not far, just past San Barnaba at Ca’ Rezzonico. Impossible to outrun a boat, but the vaporettos were slow and lumbering, even slower in the dark, and this was the part of Venice I knew best, my sleepwalking streets. And what was the alternative? I ran to the end of the campo.

The calles here were fairly direct-no long detours to go around dead ends. I raced across the bridge over the Rio San Trovaso, heading to San Barnaba. No one was out, and my shoes echoed in the empty street, the sound of a chase, desperate, so that when I did pass one old woman she moved to the side, frightened, and I realized that what she saw was a thief running with a stolen coat. My lungs began to hurt a little, gulping in cold air, but it would be only minutes-all the time in the world later to catch my breath. Calle Toletta-shops closed, sealed off with grates. Another bridge, even a few steps now an effort. Finally the open space of San Barnaba, a yellow light slanting out of a bar window.

I swerved right and down the calle to the landing. The boat was already there, motor idling noisily as passengers got off. One of the ropes was tossed back. I was going to miss it again. No, one more passenger, a woman with a string bag, taking her time. I was running so fast now that if they pulled away I might actually hit the water, unable to stop. But here was the gangplank, clanging under my feet. I grabbed at a pole to break my momentum and took a few deep breaths. One of the uniformed boatmen said something to me in Italian, which I assumed meant there’s always another boat.

She was huddled at the far end of one of the benches, looking out at the canal, so she didn’t see me come into the passenger area, didn’t even turn until she felt the coat on her shoulders. She started, then hunched back into herself.

“Go away,” she said.

“Don’t be silly. You’ll freeze.” I sat next to her, draping the coat around her. The boat moved away from the dock. “What the hell was that?” I said, still breathing heavily. The scene, pushed out of mind during the run, now came back in a blur.

“Go away,” she said again. “That’s who you want me to meet? People like that?”

“Like what? Why murderer? Who did he murder?”

“My father. With a nod of his head. ‘That one.’ A nod.”

“Gianni?”

“Gianni,” she repeated, drawing it out. “Yes, Gianni. I saw him do it. Him. You didn’t know? No, how would you know? You don’t know anything, any of you. You come with your money-ah, Venice. Why? To look at pictures. So how would you know? A man like him. That’s who your mother meets? A murderer. But that’s all over, yes? Let’s give a ball, like the old days. Ha. Did I ruin the party? No, have some champagne. Let’s just go on like before. Such a nice man. A doctor. Who cares what he did?” All in a rush, snatching at the air for words, trying to keep up with herself.

“Stop it,” I said, taking her by the shoulders. Behind us a few passengers looked up, curious. A lovers’ quarrel. A thief with a coat. Nothing was what it was.

She twisted away. “Leave me alone. Go back to America. Take him. A souvenir of Venice. No one will know him there. Ha. He thought no one would know him here. We’re supposed to be dead. And then one comes back. They say that, you know? When you least expect it. A party. And here comes death, pointing the finger. So that’s me now. Brava. Oh, look at your face. You think I’m crazy. You don’t know anything about it. For you it’s all nice-kisses, La Fenice, Mama and her nice friend. Maybe it’s better not to know. To be so lucky-”

“Stop it,” I said calmly, holding her still.

She shook my hand off and gathered her coat. “I’m getting off.”

We had rounded the lower bend in the canal and were pulling into San Toma, the Rialto lights up ahead in the distance. I took her hand, holding it down.

“Sit. I want to know.”

“What?”

“What happened. Tell me about the nod.”

She looked at me, slightly puzzled.

“You said with a nod of his head. How?”

“In the hospital.”

“Your father was sick?”

“Yes, sick. Dying. But they didn’t want to wait. Why wait for God when you are God? The Jews weren’t dying fast enough for them.”

“Who?”

“Who. The Germans, their friends. They searched the hospitals. Sometimes there was an informer. Grini-you’ve heard of him? No. He used to help the SS. In the nursing home, even. They took them out on stretchers. But not this time. This time there was only your friend. He pointed out my father to them. ‘That one,’ he said, with the nod. ‘Over there.’ So the SS took him. You know how he knew? My father told me later. From medical school. They were both at medical school, so he knew him.”

“And you were there?”

She nodded.

“Did he point you out too?”

“No, I did. Myself. My father told them I was a neighbor, to protect me.” She paused. “Not his daughter. A visitor. Maybe they believed him, I don’t know. Maybe I could have walked out, hidden somewhere. But how could I do that? Just leave him? Sick. And they find you. In the end, always.”

“So you went with him.”

She nodded. “And all for nothing. When we got there, they looked at him-who wants a sick Jew? Let the Germans take care of him. So, another train. And I said-imagine how foolish-I’ll go too, someone has to take care of him. And they laughed. Don’t worry, you’ll go later. At that time the head would send only the hopeless cases. And the children. The Germans wanted everyone, but he kept the workers back. To save them, maybe to bargain later, I don’t know. Later everyone went. Unless you were special.” She stopped, then looked up. “So you see, it was for nothing. They just put him on another train. I always wondered, did he die on the train? He was so sick. He’s on the list at Auschwitz, but maybe he was dead when he got there, who knows? Nobody can tell me for sure. Nobody came back, not from that train. No one. That’s what he thought, none of us would come back. No one would know. But I know.”

We were passing under the high bridge, a dark space between the wavy lights on the water.

“And where do I see him? Meeting Mama. So I ruin her party. Oh, such behavior. Terrible. And she’s with a man like that. My god. She thinks she knows who he is. None of you know. What are you doing here, all of you?”

I said nothing, letting the words drift off, like vented steam. She lowered her head.

“You should go home.”

“No,” I said. “Not now.”

She looked at me, then turned to the window. “Oh, and that solves everything.”

“What do you want to solve?”

“Nothing. I don’t know. Nobody pays, do they? In a few days, it’ll be-gone. Gossip. ‘Poor man. I heard about that girl. She must have been crazy.’ And everything goes on. Nobody pays, not those people.”

“Yes, they do. In Germany people are starving. Everybody’s paying.”

“You think it’s the same? Hunger? No, they won’t pay, not the murderers. That’s how it is now. Everybody pays but the murderer. And here? Signora Mimi is planning a ball. And the murderer is going to marry a rich American.”

“No, he’s not. You think I’d let that happen?”

“Because of this?” She shook her head. “It won’t make any difference. He’ll explain. Some story. And she’ll believe him. And even if she doesn’t believe him, it’s better to forget, no? Put it in the past. Easier.”

“You’re not being fair.”

“I don’t have to be fair. He pointed at my father. At me. You be fair.”

“He didn’t point at you.”

“No,” she said quietly, “I did.” She looked out the window, then back at me. “So you can feel better when you see him at dinner. He didn’t point at me. Just the sick old Jew.”

“I’m not going to see him at dinner,” I said evenly. “Stop.”

“She’ll thank you for that,” Claudia said, and then she did stop, folding back into herself again, staring out the window. We were almost at San Stae.

“We should go back. I’ll take you home.”

“No, one more stop.”

“What’s there?”

“My old house. I thought I would never go there again, but tonight I want to see it.” She turned to me. “You want to see Venice? I’ll give you a tour. Not the Accademia. This one.”

I said nothing, pulled along by her mood, unsure where she was going now. No one else got off at San Marcuola, so we were alone in the empty square, near a dark silent church and a few streetlamps. She asked for a cigarette.

“You know, my father would never allow it, a woman smoking in the streets. And here, so close.”

We started walking north into Cannaregio, gloomy long canals and workers’ houses.

“He would have been ashamed. Imagine. Of this. Think of the rest of it, what it would have done to him.” Talking to the air, to herself.

We passed a shop with Hebrew lettering.

“This is the ghetto?”

“Almost. The edge. In the beginning you had to live on the island, where the campo is. It’s easy in Venice to separate people. One island, three bridges. At night they put chains across, to keep everybody in. Except sometimes they let a doctor out, if a Christian was sick. My father used to say, no wonder the Jews liked medicine. It got them out of the ghetto.”

“But that was the Middle Ages.”

“Until Napoleon,” she said, playing tour guide. “Then you could live anywhere. Of course, most people stayed here, nearby. It was what they were used to. You see the buildings at the end, how high? They ran out of space in the ghetto, so they had to build on top. Nowhere else do you see buildings like this-six stories, seven. So many stairs.”

We turned off the main street into the narrower Calle Farnese, where we were shielded even from moonlight, forced to rely on a corner light and a few slivers coming from the shuttered windows.

“Here,” she said, stopping about a block before the bridge. “You see up there? Those windows? My aunt lived on the other side. My mother’s sister. They used to talk across. Like cats, my father said.”

We stood there for a few minutes, looking at the house and seeing nothing-ordinary windows like all the others, a door flush with the street. Around us, a smell of canal debris and damp plaster. A cat ran past, then disappeared into a shadow. A drab back calle. But Claudia was seeing something else, her eyes fixed on the dark walls as if she were looking through them to the rooms inside, her own past. Family dinners. Homework. Radio. How different could it have been? Then the change-backdoor patients, unofficial. Curfews. Her aunt’s window shut tight.

“What happened to her?”

“My mother? She died when I was eight. Oh, my aunt. In the roundup, the first one.”

“With the air raid sirens.”

She looked at me. “Yes, with the sirens. You remembered. You can see, in a street like this, how noisy it would be.” An alleyway, every shout an echo. “Come, see the rest.”

She led me over the bridge onto the island and through a passage so low I had to duck my head. We came out into a larger campo with a well in the center, an enclosed patch of faint moonlight entirely surrounded by the built-up houses, walled in.

“You see there, those windows, five in a row? That was the synagogue-out of sight, but a visitor could find it by the windows. Five, for the five books.”

I looked up, involuntarily counting the windows, then turned slowly, taking in the whole campo, dingy and peeling, a tree with spiky winter branches, not a hint of warmth anywhere, the coldest place I’d seen in Venice. It seemed utterly deserted, as if everyone had gone away, leaving a few lights on by accident.

“When was the roundup?”

“Oh, dates. All right,” she said, adopting a guide’s voice, “dates. You know Italy surrendered in forty-three? The king surrenders. September. Mussolini, he goes to Salo, and of course the Germans come in. So now, here, it’s the occupation. New Jewish laws, much worse. Now we are enemy aliens. My family, here since Rome, now we’re aliens. The broadcast was-when? End of November. I remember they came to Jona then for a list. He was head of the community, and the Germans asked him for a list of the Jews living here. Two thousand, I think. Everybody. A good man-my father knew him. What could he do? Yes, tomorrow, he told them, and that night he warned us. Then he killed himself. So he was the first. But now we knew-run, hide if you can. Like rats. You see over there?” She pointed north to a long gray building, prisonlike. “The nursing home. They couldn’t run. Some couldn’t even move. So they were easy to arrest. You see, without the list it was harder, they had to take who they could find.”

“Like your aunt.”

“She wouldn’t run. You have to imagine. Midnight, the sirens, people screaming, pounding on doors. She couldn’t move, the fear was too strong.” She shrugged. “So they took her. She scared herself to death.”

“But you hid from the Germans?”

“Germans? No, Italians. They used us to do it. Our own. Carabinieri, police, some Fascists. Maybe that’s why they waited till it was dark-maybe they didn’t want to be seen. Later it was SS. More efficient. With the police, it became a farce. They took everyone to Collegio Foscarini, but there were no facilities, nothing. So people came with food, they would throw food through the windows for the children. Ten days like that. A public embarrassment. So to Casa di Ricovero and they release the sick ones. They didn’t understand-no one could be released. So the SS came and arrested them again. A farce. But finally, the train. After that it was mostly SS, with their informers. Grini. He would take them through the hospitals, even the mental hospital. It wasn’t enough for them if you were crazy. You had to be dead.”

She folded her arms across her chest, hugging herself, rocking a little.

“You’re cold.”

“Of course we didn’t know they would go through the hospitals. We thought it was safe there. We were on the Lido then. Hiding, but not hiding. A vacation flat someone found for us, empty, you know. The neighbors pretended no one was there. We still had a little money. How much longer could it go on? It was just a matter of time, if we could wait it out. But then my father became too sick to stay there. He had a friend at the hospital, from the old days. He thought it would be all right. Use another name. Who would look in the critical wards? What for? They were already on their way to San Michele, almost dead.” She lowered her head. “But they did look.” She stretched out one arm. “ That one. Dr. Maglione. You think I would forget that face? Never. And then tonight, one look and I was back in that ward. But this time, champagne. Everyone smiling. And I thought, he got away with it. They all did. They got away with murder.”

“Not all of them.”

She waved her hand, dismissing this. “They’ll never pay. Who’s going to make them pay? You? Me? A scratch on the face. That’s my revenge, a scratch. And for that, which one of us, do you think, will no longer be welcome in your mother’s house?”

“It’s my house too.”

“No, hers. What do you think, we’re all going to be friends? If I saw him again, I would do it again. Spit and spit. I can’t help it-I don’t want to help it. I want to kill him.”

“No, you don’t.”

She lowered her head. “No. Then I would pay. So they always win.” She moved away, glancing up at the tall buildings. “Look at this place. Who gets an eye for an eye? All dead. It’s like a tomb now. I don’t even know why I came.”

“To show me.”

“Yes, to show you. What they did.” We stood for a minute looking at the silent campo, peering into the dark passages as if we were waiting for whistles and the stamping of boots to break the stillness. “You know what he said to me, my father? When they took him for the train? ‘God will never forgive them.’ But he was wrong. They’ll forgive themselves.”

“Maybe not.”

“Oh, yes. It’s one thing you learn in the camp, what they’re like. Ask your doctor how he feels. Not even embarrassed. And then one night at a party somebody points a finger. You know what I’d like? To keep pointing-wherever he goes, all his parties, his hospital, just keep pointing at him until everyone knows.” She shrugged. “Except what difference would it make? It’s just what some crazy girl says. And who believes her?” She looked down. “Who would believe her?”

“I would.”

She turned away, flustered. “Yes? Why? Maybe she is crazy. Making scenes.”

I put my arm around her. “Come on, we can’t stay here all night.”

She glanced up at the buildings again, stalling. “Look at it. No one left.”

“Maybe we should leave Venice. Go somewhere else. Rome.”

“Just like that.”

“Yes, why not?”

“And who pays? You?”

“It doesn’t matter about the money.”

“And then one day you’re gone and it does matter.”

“Why would I go?”

“Everybody goes.”

I held her by the shoulders. “Not me. Don’t you understand that?”

“No. Why? I don’t understand why.”

“Why. You think there’s a reason? Maybe that morning on the vaporetto. I don’t know why. Maybe the way you scratched Gianni’s face. I liked that.”

She smiled slightly and leaned her forehead against my chest, muffling her words. “And that’s your choice, someone like that?”

“Mm. Forget about this.” I waved toward the dark buildings.

“I can’t.”

I nodded. “I know. But let it go now, for a while. Come with me.”

She was quiet for a minute, close to me, then nodded.

“But not to Dorsoduro. You understand that? I’ll never go there again.”

“Yes, you will. He won’t be there.”

“Where have you been all night? I’ve been worried sick.”

My mother, still in her silk wrapper, was having coffee in the small sitting room, curled up in the club chair next to the electric fire. Her hair was loose, just brushed out, her face pale, with not even the usual morning dusting of powder. An ashtray with a burning cigarette was perched on the arm of the chair, the wisp of smoke rising to mix with the steam from her coffee.

“Although I can guess. Bertie said you’ve become friends with that girl. Really, Adam. She’s obviously a neurotic-hadn’t you noticed?”

“She’s not a neurotic.”

“Well, call it whatever you like. She’s obviously something. Have some coffee. What a spectacle. I mean, you like a party to have a little-but not quite that much. Gianni’s been wonderful about it, but of course it’s embarrassing. The worst part is that since she’s your friend, he can’t help but wonder-well, you know. Which is ridiculous. I said you looked as stunned as anybody. But you might give him a call. You know, talk to him a little. You don’t want him to think-”

“Did he tell you why she did it?”

“Apparently she thinks he caused her father’s death. Of course doctors have to deal with this all the time. You know, somebody dies in hospital and who’s to blame? Anybody will do, really-doctor, nurse, anybody.”

“So he doesn’t know who she is?”

“Doesn’t have the faintest. She must have seen him at the hospital and-well, you know, when you’re in that state.” She looked up. “Adam, I hope you’re putting an end to this. I’m sure the poor thing needs help and it’s very sweet of you, but you don’t have to be the one to do it. They have people for this. I mean, for all you know she could be deranged. Murdered her father. Really.”

“They were at medical school together.”

“Who?”

“Gianni and her father. He knows who she is.”

She was reaching for her cigarette but stopped, surprised by this. “And he murdered her father, I suppose,” she said finally, sarcastic.

“No. He handed him over to the SS so they could murder him. They were rounding up Jews in the hospital. Her father was too sick to move. Gianni handed him over. So what does that make him, an accessory? In her eyes it comes to the same thing.”

“That’s a terrible thing to say.”

“Especially when it’s true.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Gianni wouldn’t do such a thing. Is this what she’s going around saying?”

“She was there. She saw him.”

“Well, darling, not exactly the most reliable source, considering.”

“Then ask him.”

“Of course I’m not going to ask him. Why would he do such a thing? What possible reason could he have?”

I shrugged. “Maybe he was an anti-Semite, a collaborator. Maybe he was just a sonofabitch. He handed a sick man over to a death squad. What does it matter why?”

My mother looked at me for a second, then stubbed out her cigarette, taking her time, and gathered herself up out of the chair, balancing the cup over the ashtray.

“Adam, I want you to stop now. I won’t have that tone. And I won’t have any more of this. Last night was bad enough. You seem to forget it was my party, my evening that got spoiled. I didn’t ask for the extra dramatics. So all right, let’s put that behind us. Not your fault if she’s-But now it’s over. I won’t have you saying these things about Gianni. I won’t.”

“Not even if they’re true?”

“They’re not.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I know him. He’s a wonderful man.”

“So was Goebbels, to his children. Before he poisoned them.”

“Is that supposed to be funny? Is it this girl? Have you lost all your sense? Is Gianni supposed to be a Nazi now? Maybe it’s not her. Maybe something happened to you in Germany.”

“Yes, I met a lot of people like Gianni. Wonderful. And they didn’t think twice about putting people in boxcars.”

“Adam, what is the matter with you?” she said, her voice finally distressed.

“The matter is you won’t listen.”

“Not to this, I won’t. Not anymore. I’m going to have my bath.” She put down the cup and started to move away from the table. “This isn’t Germany, you know.”

“Why, because it’s beautiful?”

She stopped and turned to face me. “I don’t know why you’re doing this. Trying to ruin everything.”

“I’m not trying to ruin anything. I’m trying to help you. You almost married this man.”

She looked at me. “I am marrying this man.”

“You can’t. You can’t marry someone like this. Are you that far gone?”

She tried to smile, her eyes moist. “Yes, I’m that far gone.”

“Have you been listening at all? A man like this-”

“A man like what? Don’t you think I know what kind of man he is?”

“No. I don’t think you know him at all. You’ve just rushed into this like you rush into everything else. Except this time it might be harder to get out. Not to mention more expensive.”

“Oh,” she said with a small gasp, deflated. “What a hateful thing to say.”

“I’m sorry,” I said quickly, seeing her eyes fill, but she waved me away.

“No one can hurt like a child.” She brushed her hair back, rallying. “Is that what you think? Well, darling, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Or him, for that matter. But really, I’m not Doris Duke. Isn’t it too bad? Of course I’ve told him that. But if you like, I’ll tell him again. So he can be absolutely sure what he’s getting. All right?”

“I didn’t mean-”

“Yes, you did. You’re full of meanness today, I’m not sure why. Maybe you don’t want me to marry anyone.”

“I just don’t want you to marry him. Neither would you, if you’d stop and listen for two minutes.”

“Oh, just him. But the thing is, darling, no one else has asked me.”

“Mother-”

“So we’ll do this. I’ll tell him again I’m not rich.”

“It’s not about the-”

“And if he still wants to go ahead-just on the off chance that he’d like me for myself-will that make you feel better?” She stared at me for a second, then turned to the door. “Good. Now can I have my bath?”

After she left, I just stood there, not knowing what to do. Follow her and keep arguing? For what? More tears and stubborn indifference, past listening. What Claudia had predicted; the last thing I’d expected.

I picked up the coffee, tepid now and slightly bitter, and finished it, then stood looking at the wall, the light from the water outside moving on it in irregular flashes, out of rhythm, jumpy.

He’d tell her some story. A hysterical response to a hospital death. Who would say otherwise? Were there hospital records? Another name, she’d said. Not even a paper trail. I walked over to the window. On the side table there was a new picture-not the jaunty Zattere one on the dressing table but Gianni in a more formal pose, seated at a desk, with papers in front of him for signing. I picked up the photograph and looked at his eyes, half expecting to find some peering intensity, visible evil. But of course it was only Gianni. How easy had it been for him to point Signor Grassini out? A struggle? Routine? Something he’d done before, in the habit of informing? There wouldn’t have been only one.

I looked again at Gianni at his desk. Papers to sign. There was always paper somewhere. Almost without thinking, I slid the picture out of its frame and put it in my pocket. More reliable than memory, sometimes, the paper of a crime.

CHAPTER FIVE

I caught the traghetto that crossed the Grand Canal to the Gritti and then headed toward San Moise. A few days, Joe had said-maybe he had already gone. But the Bauer still had a Sullivan registered, and while I was using the house phone to call him, I spotted him at breakfast in the dining room facing the rio.

“Late start?” I said, going up to the table.

“Late night. You just caught me. Sit, but don’t expect too much.” He rubbed his temples, wishing away the hangover.

“Thanks.” I took a cornetti from the bread basket in front of him. “Eat something. It helps.”

“Did I call you or did you call me?”

“I called you. I need a favor.”

“Too late. I go back to Verona at fourteen hundred.”

“That’s where I need the favor.”

He raised his eyebrows over the coffee cup.

“Could you run a check on somebody? See what you’ve got hiding in the files?”

“Italian?”

I took out the photograph.

“Isn’t this the guy from the other day? You always run a check on your friends?”

“He’s not a friend.”

“Bad boy?”

“I think so.”

“What’d he do?”

“Cooperated with the SS rounding up Jews.”

“He wouldn’t be the first. They insisted, you know.”

“I don’t think it was like that. I think he helped.”

“Adam, for chrissake, if I had a nickel for everybody who-”

“I know. Frau Schmidt telling on the neighbors. This is something else. He’s a doctor. Old family. He had a choice.”

“Army?”

“No. Probably too old. Maybe too smart.”

“So?”

“So, what else? This stuff-it usually doesn’t happen just once. You know. It’s part of who you are.”

“Fascist?”

“Maybe, but not only that. I mean, what the hell, the mailman probably had a party card. Did he work with the Germans? What did he do? Sort of thing you might turn up in your files.”

“Might.” He looked again at the picture. “You have a name?”

I took out a pen and started writing. “He may have used another. That’s why the picture-in case somebody might spot him.”

“Somebody like who?”

“Come on, Joe, we worked the same street. You must have somebody just looking at pictures to see what he can see. An old partisan, maybe. Somebody looking to get even.”

Joe took a sip of coffee. “Is that what you’re looking to do?”

I met his gaze over the cup. “He wants to marry my mother.”

“Jesus, Adam, we’re not a fucking reference bureau. If you don’t like him-”

“He’s a bad guy. I just want to know how bad.”

“Look, let me explain something to you. This isn’t Frankfurt. The setup’s different here. We’re not trying to punish anybody. The Italians are supposed to be the victims, the good guys. We don’t keep those kinds of files on them. And the Italians, they don’t want to know. They settle things privately. It’s what they’re good at. Since fucking Rome. Some Fascist prick set up a partisan ambush? They don’t bother with a trial. They just stick him with a shiv some night and go about their business. You see Mussolini in the dock? Just strung him up at a gas station. They don’t want us running trials here. They take care of their own.”

“So what are you doing here then?”

“German trials. The Germans want trials. Or maybe we want them to have them. Anyway, they do. And when the evidence is here, we have to come get it. Kesselring did a lot here before they transferred him back. Just wiped people out. So things get lost in Germany, we find something else here. It doesn’t matter where he did it as long as he did it. It’s the Germans we’re after, not your mother’s boyfriend.” He put the picture back on the table.

“So let’s see, that means you’ve got the German army files-what they didn’t take. They take much?”

“Some.”

“And you’ve probably got that cross-referenced with the Salo government files-liaison reports anyway. SS? Nobody kept files like they did, we know that. So what do we have? The army worked with Italians, so there’d be sheets on them there. Secret police reports, for sure. SS would have their own little black book of informers. Somebody like Gianni, they’d probably give him a file all his own, wouldn’t they?”

Joe raised his eyes again. “Yes.”

“In other words, the German files have got practically everything we want to know about the Italians, wouldn’t you say? Except what they said to each other. And all I want to know is what he said to the Germans. What they had to say about him.”

“An Italian civilian? We’re not here for that. They’re our friends.”

“Yeah, well, so are the Germans now.”

“We’re not supposed to use the files this way.”

“What are you talking about? That’s all we did.”

“You’re not in the army anymore. And he’s Italian. We’re not supposed to-”

“Jesus Christ, Joe, the old man is lying there in a hospital bed and this guy fingers him. In a hospital bed. How much protection is he supposed to have?”

Joe said nothing for a minute, then pocketed the paper and photograph.

“All right. All I’m saying is, this isn’t Frankfurt. We may not have anything.”

“If you don’t, you don’t. I’ll bet you’ve got a Herr Kroger.” Our assistant, for whom the files were a series of live wires running from connection to connection, the whole a wonderful bright web in his brain.

“Soriano,” Joe said, nodding. “Signora. Pretty good, too.”

“Put her on it. She’ll know right away if it’s worth a little sniffing. I don’t want to tie you up with this.”

Joe grinned. “No, just use my best snoop. You don’t change.” He patted the pocket with the photograph. “You really love this guy, huh? What if I come up dry?”

“There has to be something. A man who’d do that-it’s never just once.”

“And you’re sure he did?”

“There was an eyewitness.”

“And you’re sure-”

“She was the old man’s daughter.”

“Oh, she was,” Joe said, looking at me. “Then she’d know.”

“Yes, she would,” I said, staring back.

Joe sighed and put his napkin on the table. “Well, this was fun. Just like old times. You have a phone here?”

“On the paper. I’ll come to Verona if-”

“No, you don’t want to come anywhere near me. It’s not Frankfurt, remember? Anyway, I’m not as much fun as I used to be. Can I ask you something? This guy, does he know that you know?”

I looked at him, surprised that this hadn’t occurred to me, then nodded. Of course he knew. Claudia would have told me.

“Some fucking wedding,” Joe said.

I walked back, taking the wide swing over the Accademia bridge, then sat for a while in the Campo San Ivo. There was a shaft of sun in the square, and some bundled-up old people sat on benches with their faces turned to it. At the end of the campo boats swept by on the Grand Canal. Where my mother had come to be happy. So special it seemed not just outside the war but outside time. But that had been another trick of the light, like the hypnotic movement of the water. Nowhere was outside. And now everything here would be Gianni, every detail a daily reminder. Gothic arched windows, flowerpots on terraces, the view from the Monaco lounge. She’d be miserable and, stubbornly, she’d refuse to go. The leaving itself could be easy. My mother had always lived a gypsy life of suitcases and short-term leases. A few days would do it. Bertie could deal with the house. Mimi could make the public excuses. And she’d be out of it. If she’d go.

I saw her face for a second as she’d turned from the door this morning, wounded. By me, every word a kind of betrayal. What would it look like now, knowing I’d asked for his file? But what was the alternative? If he’d lie about the hospital, what else would he lie about? What was the point of finding out later, when she was already trapped, crushed by the disappointment of it? The sooner, the better. She might listen to Bertie. A calm meeting, moving her gently from point to point until she saw. It was just a question of making her see.

I got up and started back to the house. We’d both apologize. We’d tiptoe around it. She’d ask what Claudia had actually said, what she’d seen. We’d talk.

But when I got to the house, she’d already gone out. “A fitting, for the dress,” Angelina said. “She left a message.”

I went over to the table and took the paper out of the silver dish. “Don’t forget to call Gianni,” it read, as if nothing had been said at all.

Claudia wasn’t at the Accademia, so I walked toward the Rialto and then, on a whim, went to the library and spent a few hours leafing through a bound volume of Il Gazzettino. The first roundup had been in December ’43, but Claudia hadn’t been taken until later-fall, after a few months hiding on the Lido. I started with July, piecing together bits of Italian until word blocks began to fall into place, the way menus become familiar. Gianni’s name never came up. But why would it? Claudia wasn’t there either, or Abramo Grassini. Not even the word Ebreo. No one had combed through the hospital, looking for victims. No one had been transported. August. Nothing had happened. La Serenissima had survived the occupation doing what it always had-entertaining visitors. The violinists in San Marco would have played waltzes. Not many photographs, only the occasional officer in gray in the background, taking coffee. September. The war was happening somewhere else, troops fighting in the south, only partisan bands in the Veneto. A train derailed near Verona, a munitions depot blown up-cowardly acts designed to thwart the Italian war effort (had the typographer set this with a straight face?), Communist-inspired, probably Milanese. The Communists, in fact, were behind everything, the real threat, more insidious than the advancing Allies or the protective Germans. The monsignor called for peace, an end to criminal acts. But even the partisans were somewhere else, at the other end of the bridge across the lagoon. In Venice, nothing happened.

I started to close the book, letting the pages fall on one another, backward through the summer, and suddenly there he was, same face, receding hair. I stopped and flipped until I came back to the photograph. Not Gianni, the older brother. Gustavo Paolo Lorenzo, known as Paolo. Dead in the war, Gianni had said, but not exactly in the front lines, according to Il Gazzettino. A car accident near Asolo, where he was staying or living-my Italian wasn’t nuanced enough to tell. Odd to think of any Venetian in a car, much less dying in one. Is that why Gianni had given him a better end? I looked at the photograph again-Gianni’s eyes, spaced wide over the same high nose, a subtly different mouth, the whole look older, not quite as personable. Had they been close? I read through the obituary, looking for some sense of their lives together, but the article was respectful and dull. A long genealogy, a list of charitable associations, but evidently no profession. Only second sons had to think of it. The lucky older brother, who’d lived on what was left. An ordinary, conventional life. The only hint of flair had been a youthful enthusiasm for auto racing-and, the piece did not say but implied, look where that had led. No other passengers in the wreck. Mourned by his many friends and colleagues.

At four Claudia still wasn’t back at the Accademia. “She’s not here,” a secretary said in Italian, and when I looked at my watch with a teasing raised eyebrow and said, “Some lunch,” she said, “No, she is no longer employed here.”

“Since when?” I said, but she pretended not to understand and shrugged, so I went back out to Calle Pisani and stood for a minute waiting, as if someone were going to come out and explain it to me. Why would she quit? Jobs were hard to get. For a panicked second I wondered if she’d gone to Rome after all, taking off like a startled bird, still surprised at herself. An afternoon train, a note pinned to the dressmaker’s dummy. But that wasn’t like her. I thought of her that first time at Bertie’s party, as straightforward as her suit, and then with Gianni, her hands at his face. No strategic retreats, no notes. She’d be at home, looking out the window at San Isepo. She wouldn’t have left. Not alone.

I started for the vaporetto, then stopped and headed back to my mother’s to pick up some clothes. I had only a few things at Claudia’s, and I wasn’t just staying the night anymore. Angelina surprised me with a message to call Joe Sullivan. I hadn’t expected to hear back for days and I didn’t want to take the time to call now-it could take up to an hour just to get through-but since Claudia didn’t have a phone, there wasn’t much choice. The phone had one of those elaborate receivers you saw in old movies and the sound was usually scratchy, but for once the lines were free.

“You rang a bell with Rosa,” he said.

“Who?”

“Signora Soriano. Herr Kroger.”

“Ah. What kind of bell?”

“She knew the name. Now she’s running around trying to put things together. I wish you could see her. Fucking purring. Like a cat with a ball of yarn.”

“Knew his name how?”

“Company he kept. Not that that means anything. Lots of bad company in Italy these last few years. Hard to avoid.”

“And he didn’t?”

“No, but it’s hard to say. You ever hear of the Villa Raspelli?”

“No.”

“It’s a kind of rest home over on Lake Garda. Some banker’s house. They made it into a recovery center for SS brass. Nice. Your man must have made a few house calls there. Rosa remembered the name.”

“He was an SS doctor?”

“Don’t run away with yourself. He was a doctor. The patients were SS. How exactly that fits together, I don’t know.”

“I can guess. What else has she got?”

“I didn’t say she had anything. But if there is, she’ll find it. Like I say, she’s purring. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. A few days, okay? She wants to give it to you personally, which means she wants a trip to Venice, but what the hell. If anybody deserves-”

“But why does she think there’s anything?”

“I don’t know. She just said Villa Raspelli and then went down the rabbit hole, the way she does. She finds anything, I’ll have her call. This number always good?”

I looked at the phone, the only one I had access to. “Yes.”

“Meanwhile, don’t start packing for Nuremberg, okay? Sit tight.”

“Thanks, Joe. I owe you.”

“Not yet, you don’t. I mean, he’s a fucking doctor. Who else do you call when you’re sick?”

“But they called him, Joe. Not anybody. Him.”

I heard nothing for a minute, just some breathing over the line.

“Why do you think that was?” I said.

Again silence, then a small sigh. “Maybe he’s good at what he does.”

“Uh-huh,” I said, turning my head toward the door, where my mother was standing, cheeks still red from outside. She gave me a tentative smile and crossed the room to the drinks tray.

“He speak kraut?” Joe was saying.

“I don’t know,” I said, distracted.

“That might explain it. Krauts like that, speak the language.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

This time he didn’t even bother to answer. “I’ll have her call. Soriano, don’t forget.”

“I won’t. Thanks, Joe.”

“Who’s Joe?” my mother said as I hung up, her back to me, fixing a drink. At this distance she seemed small, her shoulders as narrow as a girl’s. Who was Joe? An investigator. A rat chaser. Someone who knew about Gianni.

“An army buddy,” I said.

“In Venice? That’s nice.”

“In Verona.”

“Still. Want one?” she said, turning. “I know it’s early, but the fitting was hell. Nobody ever says how exhausting it is, just standing. But wait till you see it-so pretty. It’s got beads along here,” she said, drawing her hand along an imaginary neckline. “Oh, but you don’t care a bit, do you? Half the time you don’t even notice what people have on. What’s in the bag?” She nodded to the small satchel I’d packed with clothes. “Moving out?” Her voice light, her eyes fixed on mine.

“No. Just a change.”

“Ah,” she said. We never talked about the nights away, the unused bed. I was simply “out late.” “Did you call Gianni?” Offhand, as if it were an afterthought.

“No.”

“Darling, I wish you would. It would mean so much to him.” She put down the drink and walked toward me. “Think what it’s like for him.”

“What what’s like?”

She sighed. “Well, you, I suppose. I wish I knew why you’ve taken-”

“Then listen to me. Please. It’s important.”

“We’ve had this conversation, I think, haven’t we?”

“Then let’s have it again.”

“Adam, I don’t care what happened a long time ago-”

“A year, year and a half.”

“I know him now.”

“You think you do. People don’t change.”

She looked up at me, her eyes softer. “You don’t, anyway. So stubborn. What a stubborn little boy you were. Always going to set things right. Always so sure. Even in the sandbox.”

“What sandbox? You never took me to a sandbox.”

She smiled. “Well, how would you know? Anyway, I remember seeing you in a sandbox. I suppose some child had taken a toy or something, I don’t know. And there you were on your high horse, all three feet of you. Pointing. ‘It’s not fair, it’s not fair!’ Just outraged.”

“Well, it probably wasn’t fair,” I said, smiling a little now too.

“Probably,” she said. She reached up and brushed the hair back from my forehead. “But you’re not a little boy anymore. And nothing is fair. Nothing in this world. There’s only-getting along.”

I took her hand, moving it down from my hair.

“We’re not talking about something that happened in a sandbox,” I said. “People died.”

“Because of him. You think that.”

“Yes.”

She put her hands on my upper arms. “Then talk to him. Let him explain.”

“Mother-”

“Come to dinner.”

I looked at her, disconcerted. A social occasion, to iron out the wrinkles.

“No,” I said, pulling away, then stopped, caught by the hurt expression in her eyes. “Anyway, I can’t,” I said.

“Yes, I forgot,” she said, nodding to the bag. “Tomorrow, perhaps.” A hostess taking in a polite excuse.

“No, not tomorrow either.”

“Really, Adam,” she said with a nervous giggle. “He’ll think-”

I looked at her, not saying anything.

“We can’t go on this way,” she said. “It’s important. To sit down at a table together.”

“Like a family.”

“Yes, like a family. You know, you’re all I have,” she said quietly. Then she turned away, her voice changing, back to Neverland again. “Well, another day. Goodness, look at the time. I’d better run a bath. You won’t be too late tonight, will you, darling?” Ignoring the satchel.

“Not too late,” I said, ignoring it too.

It was dark by the time I got to Claudia’s, and she was in fact staring out at San Isepo, just as I’d imagined.

“You’ll go blind,” I said, flicking on the light. “Everything okay?” I put the satchel near the bed.

She said nothing, smoking and staring out the window.

“I went by the Accademia. They said you’d left. Quit.”

“No, dismissed,” she said after another minute’s silence. “In the fire. Isn’t that right?”

“Fired,” I said automatically. “What happened?”

“My services are no longer required. Signora Ricci told me. The director didn’t bother coming down. He had Signora Ricci do it.”

“But why?”

“Why do you think? A word in the ear. It’s so different in America?”

“Whose ear?”

“The director’s, I suppose. Anyway, someone’s. So now it’s begun. But so quick.”

“Now what’s begun?”

“To get rid of me. Now that I’ve exposed him, what else can he do? Kill me, like my father? He’d like that, but now it’s not legal.”

“You think Gianni had you fired?”

“I know it.”

“I’ll talk to him,” I said, angry.

“No, it doesn’t work that way. He won’t know anything about it. No one will. But I’ll be gone.”

“Then how do you know it was him?”

“I saw his face.”

“When?”

She turned away from the window and put out the cigarette. “I’m embarrassed to tell you. It was-I don’t know, just something I did. Not thinking. I just went.”

“Where?”

“To the hospital. Signora Ricci told me to leave and I knew. Not the end of the week, leave today. I knew what it meant. Who else would do this? Make me go away, that’s what he wants now. No more-incidents. I thought, he can do this, make trouble for me just by picking up the phone. But I can make trouble for him too-I know what he did. So I went there, all the way to Campo Zanipolo, and then I thought, what am I doing? I’m going to run into the hospital? They’ll think he’s right, a crazy. But what do you do? Take your purse from the desk and thank Signora Ricci and just disappear? That’s what he wants.”

“So what did you do?”

“Nothing. I just stood there, by Colleoni on his horse. I didn’t know. Go? Stay? What? And then he came out. Not alone. With two others, out of the hospital. And they cross the campo-talking, you know-and suddenly he comes near and he stops. It was all there, in his face-no surprise, he knew why I was there, expecting it even, and you know what else? A fear. He was afraid. That I was waiting there for him. I wasn’t. Another two minutes and I would have been gone. But he didn’t know that. Remember I said how I should do that, just be there, at his parties, everywhere? He thought I was.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing. I just looked at him. And him? Nothing, just a look. But it was there, in his face. And the others, the men with him, they don’t understand it at all. Why he’s staring at this woman by Colleoni. Who doesn’t say anything to him either, just a look. And when they start again, I hear one of them say, ‘Who was that?’ And he says, ‘Nobody.’ And one of them turns back to look and I could see he’s thinking, So why did he stop? But how can Maglione explain it? So it’s the beginning. He wants me dead. Gone, anyway. I saw it there, in his face.”

“In one look,” I said, trying to coax her out of it.

“Yes, one look. I know. I’ve seen it before.”

“Maybe you’re overreacting,” I said gently.

“No, the same. You know how I know? Because it frightened me. The way it always did. Like a knife at your throat-so close, when? So now he’s afraid of me, just the sight of me, and I’m afraid of him. We know each other. Maybe it would have been better if I’d never found him. Now how does it end?”

I went over to her. “You go away and live happily ever after.”

“Ha. Leave. So he wins.”

“No, you do. Just forget about him. Look what it does to you, just passing him in the street. You’re all-”

“What?”

“Nerves.”

She shrugged. “No, I’m better now.” She looked out the window again. “And how is he, I wonder?”

“Claudia-”

“I know. Forget it. All right-forgotten.” She brushed the air with her hand. “But I’m still out of work. No job. Nothing.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, coming nearer. “I’ll take care of you.”

“Like a whore.”

“No,” I said, turning her around, lifting her chin with my finger to make her smile. “Like a mistress.”

“Oh, there’s a difference.”

“Mm. More expensive.”

A small smile. “Yes? How much?” she said, playing back.

I kissed her. “Whatever it takes.”

“Any price-how nice for me,” she said.

“How about dinner at the Danieli?”

She pulled back, smiling. “So that’s my price? A dinner at the Danieli.”

“Why not? You don’t get fired every day.”

In the end we settled for a drink at the Danieli. The big gothic dining room was almost deserted, quiet as a church, waiting for tourists and spring. Waiters stood near the wall gazing toward the lobby. The few diners spoke in whispers. Nobody was celebrating anything. We had a Prosecco in the bar and slipped back out to the Riva.

The moon was out and the air was sharp. We held hands going over the bridge to San Marco, still happy to be out of the hushed dining room.

“I’ll talk to Bertie,” I said. “Maybe he can do something.”

“No. Anyway, I don’t want to go back there.”

“Where, then?”

We were strolling past the empty cafes.

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go to Murano and make glass. Maybe Quadri’s,” she said, pointing to the frosted windows. “Somebody must do the dishes.”

“Not tonight,” I said, looking in. An old woman in a fur coat, nursing a drink. Two men at the bar.

We went under the arcade and out of San Marco, past the back basin where the gondolas tied up. Guido’s was a small restaurant, cozy in the winter, with windows overlooking the Rio Fuseri and a long antipasto table filling the far end of the room. In the summer it would be filled with foreigners, sent by the big hotels with walking maps, but now it was only half full, romantic with shaded lamps and a pleasant murmuring of Italian.

Claudia saw them first. I was handing the coats to a waiter near the door, the eager maitre d’ hovering nearby, and felt her grab my arm. Gianni’s back was to us, so it was my mother who looked up, startled for a second, then smiled.

“Darling, what a surprise. Look, Gianni, it’s Adam.” She stopped, finally taking in Claudia, her eyes darting nervously to the rest of the room, uneasy. “I wish I’d known,” she said in her social voice. She motioned her hand over the table, only big enough for two. “But maybe they can move one.”

Gianni turned in his seat, then got up slowly, hesitant, not sure how to react. It was, as Claudia had said, a kind of fear. But of what? An awkward moment in a restaurant? Her face had hardened, and she was glaring at him. For a few seconds nobody moved, not even the maitre d’, waiting to see how we wanted to be seated.

“Adam,” Gianni said. “You brought her here? Why do you do this?” Annoyed, but keeping his voice even so that no one around us heard anything unusual in it. He looked at Claudia. “What do you want?” he said, almost pleading, exasperated.

“From you, nothing.” She turned, gripping my arm more tightly. “Let’s go.”

“Darling,” my mother said, drawing it out so that it was like a hand reaching over, insistent. She looked around the room again, then at me, a signal to behave. “It’s no trouble. About the table.”

Now her voice reached Gianni, stopping the unguarded look on his face and bringing him back too. He stared at Claudia for another second and then nodded to my mother, trying to please her, or deciding that the only way to deal with the situation was to pretend it wasn’t happening.

“Yes, join us,” he said, a little unsteady, still not sure, but gesturing graciously to the table. “I can recommend the polenta. If you like that.” Now even a polite, forced smile.

“With you, never,” Claudia said, her voice low.

Nearby the maitre d’ waited. Gianni looked around. No one was paying attention. We were still just a group of foreigners saying hello.

“But perhaps you would rather be alone with your friend,” he said to me.

“Oh darling, this would be such a chance to talk things out,” my mother started, then stopped, caught by Gianni’s sharp glance, the first time I had ever seen him look at her this way.

“Grace,” he said, cutting her off.

“Is that what you want?” I said. “To talk about things? Old times?”

Before he could answer, Claudia said something in Italian, her voice still low but edgy, even the sound of it unpleasant. Gianni’s face clouded. The couple at the next table looked up.

“Adam, don’t,” my mother said. “Please.”

“She lost her job today,” I said to her, then looked again at Gianni. “Want to talk about getting it back?”

“Why Gianni?” my mother said. “What are you talking about?”

“Tell her,” I said to Gianni.

Claudia said something more in Italian, rapid-fire, too fast to catch. Gianni’s face darkened again.

“Enough,” he said in English. “First the father, now your job. Everything that goes wrong in your life you blame on me? Why?”

“You made the call, didn’t you?” I said. “Tell her.” I nodded to my mother, then put my hand on Claudia’s back, ready to go.

“Listen to me,” Gianni said before I could turn, almost in an undertone, just English to the rest of the room. “We are almost finished. We will take our coffee elsewhere. Sit over there with your friend. In a few minutes we’ll be gone. No scenes.”

“Do you think I would stay in the same room with you?” Claudia said to him in English.

“I am sorry for your confusion,” he said deliberately. “A misunderstanding. Some other time we will discuss it.”

“Darling, do please stop,” my mother said. “I don’t know what this is all about. Gianni doesn’t even know her. I told you.”

“Is that right?” Claudia said to him. “You don’t remember me? Shall I describe it for her?”

“Adam, you can see what she’s like,” Gianni said. “Take another table. People are beginning to look.”

“You don’t remember her?” I said.

“Go to the table,” he said in a hard whisper.

“That’s right. You forget things. You don’t remember her father either, your friend from med school. Do you remember the Villa Raspelli? Your friends there? I found somebody today who remembers you.”

“Adam, really-” my mother said, but the rest of it faded, only a sound in the background, because at that instant I saw Gianni’s face shift. Not just a scowl, a narrowing of the eyes, but a look of such pure hatred that for a second I couldn’t breathe, trapped in it, the way a victim must feel just at the end. He wanted me dead. In that one look I saw that everything Claudia had said was true, that he was capable of it. What I hadn’t seen in the photographs or behind the smiles over a lunch table: the eyes of someone who could kill. Steadily, without hesitation, just getting something out of the way. And then it was gone-the eyes blinked, adjusting themselves.

“I remember the Villa Raspelli,” he said, staring at me, then shifted again and bowed, an elaborate courtesy. “I’m sorry you can’t join us. Perhaps another time.” He sat down, turning his back to us. The effect was to make people look at us, wondering why we were still standing there.

“Oh, Adam,” my mother said quietly, dismayed.

“Ask him about it over coffee,” I said to her. “Since he remembers.”

“Sit down,” she said, almost hissing.

“No, we’re leaving,” I said, turning to the puzzled maitre d’ for our coats.

“You don’t want a table?” the maitre d’ said, flustered, sensing a moment gone wrong.

I shook my head. “I’m sorry,” I said, taking the coats. “Tomorrow.”

Since this made no sense to him, he just stood there watching us go. Everyone watched, in fact, except Gianni.

In the street I gulped some air, then helped Claudia into her coat and pulled up the collar. Guido’s had an antique lantern over the door, and we stood in its light for a minute, breathing streams of vapor in the cold air.

“Never mind,” I said. “There’s another place near La Fenice.”

“He thinks I’m following him,” Claudia said.

But it was Gianni who followed us, suddenly opening the door, coatless, and stepping into the lantern light.

“Who told you about Villa Raspelli?” he said.

“What does it matter who? Why don’t you tell me about it?”

“You think you know something. You don’t know anything.”

“But I’ll find out.”

“More fairy tales,” he said, looking at Claudia. “Why do you stay in Venice? With your bad memories. Or you,” he said to me. “Go home. You are making trouble here for no reason. Go live your own life. Leave us in peace.”

“You sent me away once,” Claudia said. “Do you think you can do that again?”

“Me? I don’t send anyone.”

“But you could arrange it. Like that,” Claudia said, snapping her fingers.

“Yes, like that,” Gianni said, nodding, a kind of threat. “Easy.”

“Not so easy this time. This time we don’t go like sheep. We know.”

“More melodrama. Why do you listen to her? Such a scene.”

“Is that what you came out here for? To tell us to leave town?”

He looked at me steadily, then sighed. “No, for your mother. To make peace.”

“Peace.”

“I’m a patient man, but not a saint. She wants that, but you-what do you want? I wish I knew. Not peace. To make trouble maybe between us. So I will tell you something. You will not stop this marriage. You will make your mother unhappy, but you will not stop it. Do you think I would let these stories get in the way of that? She will leave Venice,” he said, indicating Claudia. “So will you. And your mother and I will live here. If you have sense, you will go back and sit and talk to her. Apologize for making a scene.” He looked at Claudia. “You, I don’t care what happens to you. I’m sorry for your trouble, but now it’s enough craziness. Leave me alone. Go away.”

“Where would I go? To Fossoli again? You didn’t think anyone would come back. But one did.”

He looked at her, cool, absolutely calm, then turned to me. “Don’t do this again. It upsets your mother.”

“Tell her about Villa Raspelli. Then see how she feels.”

“And what would I tell her? I was a doctor doing his duty.” He narrowed his eyes in the same menacing stare I’d seen in the restaurant. “You think you know. You don’t. But you will not stop this marriage.”

He brought his hands up to straighten his tie, and I watched, fixated, as he tightened the silk. Large, square hands, a sharp pull on the fabric. For an instant, oddly, I saw my mother’s soft throat in the Monaco lounge, imagined him putting his hands around it. Not in violence, not some improbable tabloid crime, but strangling the life out of her, choking her spirit bit by bit until only a gasp was left. He looked at me, with his hard eyes, and I realized he was capable of this too, a different killing. With no one around to interfere.

He glanced back through the glass of the door. “Your mother is waiting.”

“What will you tell her?”

“That you are embarrassed and she is mad,” he said, glancing toward Claudia. “The truth.”

“The truth,” Claudia said. “The truth is that you sent me to die. Sent me to be a whore.”

He patted his tie, then looked at her, weary. “No. That’s something you did yourself.”

CHAPTER SIX

Bertie refused to help at the Accademia.

“You overestimate my influence. I couldn’t. Not now. Anyway, I wouldn’t. She may be the most wonderful thing since sliced bread, but she’s been terrible for you. Just look at this mess, Grace all weepy and Gianni snorting around like a wounded bull. And for what? Some whim of yours.”

“She’s telling the truth.”

“I don’t know that. And neither do you. You’re just thinking with your pants. It’s one thing in the army, that’s all anyone thinks about, but you’re not in barracks anymore. So much for a civilizing influence.” He waved his hand toward the city outside his long windows. “And if you ask me, the sooner you get yourself out of her clutches, the better.”

“Her clutches.”

“Her charm, then. I must say, she’s the most unlikely siren,” he said, pronouncing it “sireen” for effect. “Still.”

“He put her in a camp, Bertie. Her father died.”

“He did. Himself.”

“Don’t split hairs.”

“Rather important hairs, don’t you think?”

“Not if he’d done it to you.”

“Oh, Adam, first he’s after Grace’s money, now he’s working with the SS. Does he look like SS to you? This is all mischief.”

“Why does everyone want to protect him?”

Bertie peered at me over his glasses. “Nobody’s protecting anybody. Nobody’s proven anything, either.”

“I will.”

“How, may I ask?”

“I still have friends in the army.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning they like to know who kept company with the Germans. They keep lists. Testimony.”

Bertie looked at me for another minute, his face slack with surprise. He got up and walked over to the window. “Well, isn’t that lovely? What do you intend to do, put him on trial?”

“He didn’t do anything, according to you.”

“Never mind according to me. Keep me out of it. I can tell you now that nothing’s going to come of it but tears and more tears. Adam, for heaven’s sake, let them be. They’re going to marry, whether you like it or not, so let them get on with it.”

“You don’t think I’d let him marry her.”

“Well, as you keep failing to grasp, he didn’t ask you and you haven’t accepted. The invitations are out, you know.”

“Help me, Bertie. She’s your friend.”

He sighed and opened the window to his balcony. Outside, the winter sun was bright on the Grand Canal, noisy with boats.

“What does she say about all this?”

“Nothing. She refuses to talk about it. She spends all day getting her dress fitted.”

“So I heard.”

“What?”

“Mimi. She’s in a perfect snit about it. The dressmaker. None of her friends can get a look-in, and there’s the ball coming up.” He turned and smiled at me. “I know, all very silly. And here you are, still fighting the good fight.” He opened the window wider. “Oh, how I wish you’d go.”

“That’s what Gianni said. He can’t wait to get me out either.”

“Not just you. All of you. Even Grace. She’s a darling, but look at her now. Everything all fraught. You make everything so messy, all of you. I hate it.”

“No, you don’t. You love it.”

“Oh, for five minutes’ gossip? You think so? I don’t, really. I’m selfish. I suppose it’s wrong, but I can’t help it now. Look at that,” he said, waving at the view down the canal. “Did you ever see anything so beautiful? The first time I came here, I knew it was all I wanted in my life. To see this every day, just be part of it. And then you all come charging in, making messes right and left. In a way I think I preferred it during the war. Nobody came.”

“Except the Germans.”

“Well, yes. All right. The Germans,” he said, the phrase taking in more. “And now you want to bring it all back. God knows why.”

“Things happened here, Bertie. You can’t make them go away just because they spoil the view.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. They will go away. Nobody wants to live with them, over and over. Why do you? They did this and they did that-you don’t even know who they are, you just know who you want it to be. I don’t like this, Adam, any of it. I don’t like what you’re doing. Neither will you, in the end. Ach.” He stopped, out of steam, and closed the window, his eyes glancing over to see how I was reacting.

“Will you talk to her?” I said calmly.

“Oh, and say what? ‘You might reconsider, darling. Your son thinks he’s Himmler.’ ”

“She’ll listen to you.”

“You keep saying. I don’t want to be listened to. I want to be left alone.”

“With your view.”

“Yes, with my view.” He came over to the coffee table and lit a cigarette. “All right. All right. Getting married. You’d think once would be enough for anybody.”

“They’ll find it, Bertie. Evidence. It’s there somewhere.”

He looked at me. “Let’s hope not.”

The next day Claudia’s landlady asked her to leave. An official from the housing authority had come to inspect. There had been reports of immoral behavior.

“That’s you,” Claudia said with a wry, fatalistic smile. “You’re the immoral behavior.”

“He can’t do this.”

She shrugged. “Venice is famous for denunciations. You can still see some of the boxes where they put the notes. For the doges.”

“Five hundred years ago.”

“Well, for me, this week.”

“She can’t just put you out.”

“She was frightened-an official coming here. So I have till the end of the week. At least it’s better than the Accademia, not the same day. He asked if she’d seen my residency permit. So they’re going to make trouble about that.”

“Don’t you have one?”

“Everything was taken at Fossoli.”

“So get another. You were born here. They’ll have records.”

“Yes. In the end, I’ll get it. But meanwhile-” She opened her hand to show the weeks drifting by.

“He’s not going to get away with this. Stay here. I’ll be back.”

She touched my arm. “I’ll go with you.”

“Not this time. My mother wants us to talk, so we’ll talk.”

I zigzagged my way past the Arsenale and through the back-streets of Castello toward the hospital. Over the bridge at San Lorenzo to the Questura side, where a few policemen were loitering in the sun with cigarettes, not yet ready for their desks inside. Did it only take one call here too? Maybe the policeman we’d met at Harry’s, ready to do a favor. San Zanipolo and its dull red brick, then the vaulted reception room of the hospital, following the guard’s directions down the stone corridor to the doctors’ offices. Not running, but walking so fast that people noticed, thought maybe I was hurrying to a deathbed. I brushed past the nurse in the outer office and opened the door without knocking. Gianni was sitting behind the desk in a white coat, his pen stopping halfway across a form when he saw me.

“I want you to leave her alone,” I said.

The nurse rushed up behind, flustered. “ Dottore — ” she started, but Gianni waved her away, gesturing for me to sit.

“What have I done now?” he said.

“Scaring the landlady. Is that your idea of a joke? Charging Claudia with immoral behavior.”

“I don’t doubt it,” he said. “A woman like that doesn’t change. I made inquiries about her, after the party. When she made such a spectacle of herself. I thought maybe she was deranged.”

“She’s not deranged.”

“No, a whore. Do you know what she was at Fossoli?”

“Where you sent her.”

“Do you know what she was? Did she tell you?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, the camp mistress. This is the woman you bring to your mother’s house.”

“She was forced.”

“No one forces a woman to be a whore. A man like that, at the camp, do you think he would have kept her if she didn’t please him? No one had to force her.”

“You really are a sonofabitch, aren’t you?” I said quietly.

“Oh, now names. I try to help you, show you what she is, and you call me names.”

“Just call off the dogs, Gianni. The police or the housing authority or whoever the hell you called this time.”

“For your information, I didn’t call anyone. Another of her fantasies.”

“Who else would have done it, Gianni? Who else?”

“A landlord finds a new tenant, he gets rid of the old one. It happens all the time.”

“Leave her alone.”

“I see. She scratches my face in public. Waits outside the hospital, like a beggar. Makes scenes in restaurants. But I am bothering her.”

“Just call them off. She’s not leaving Venice.”

“She has no permit.”

I smiled grimly at the slip. “Something you just happened to know?”

He glanced away. “I told you, I made inquiries. It’s not for me to decide. It’s a legal matter.”

“Not if I marry her,” I said, not even thinking, just returning the ball.

He looked up at me, genuinely shocked. “You can’t marry her.”

“Why not? My mother’s marrying you.”

“A woman like that? It would be a disgrace. Think of your mother. It’s impossible.”

“What a piece of work you are,” I said slowly. “You send her father to die. She ends up in the camp, raped, and now she’s a disgrace, not fit to enter your house. You did it and she pays? Not anymore. I don’t know how you live with yourself.”

He stared down at the papers, not saying anything.

“Always her father with you. Over and over. You think you know,” he finally said.

“What don’t I know?”

He pursed his lips, then turned and stopped, turning back, a kind of physical indecision.

“You still see his room on your rounds?”

“Lower your voice,” he said, darting his eyes toward the anteroom.

“I don’t care who hears. You got away with it, you can live with it.”

He put his hands on the desk, as if he were stopping his body from moving, coming to an end.

“Yes, I live with it. You want to know? That day?”

“I thought it never happened.”

“Come.”

He took his coat from the rack and started out, not bothering to see whether I was following. There was some quick Italian to the nurse, who nodded uneasily at me, and we were in the hall.

“Where are we going?” I said.

“Out of here. I will tell you something that never happened.”

Outside, he turned right on the Fondamenta dei Mendicanti and began walking along the canal, then stopped, as if he had changed his mind.

“An ambulance. Wait.”

Orderlies were carrying a stretcher off the boat, stepping carefully from the deck to the receiving room door. Gianni went over and asked them something, presumably whether he was needed. I stood looking at the boat, waiting. Everything by water, even the sick. Claudia’s father must have come this way, on a boat from the Lido. She would have stood here, watching as they carried him in.

“Another one for San Michele,” Gianni said.

“Dead?”

“Almost. Some morphine, that’s all you can do now. Pray, if you believe that. Then San Michele.” He started walking again, shoving his hands into his coat pockets. “Do you know how many dead I’ve seen? When I was young, I thought I would be helping people, making them better. You know, the nice doctor with the cough medicine, the way a child sees it. That’s what I thought it would be, medicine, but no. Death. Seeing it happen, waiting for it. I’ve spent my whole life in this building,” he said, motioning with his head toward the long brick wall. “I know when someone is going to die. What are we supposed to do? We help even when we know it won’t help. We don’t kill them. We don’t make that decision. God does, if you believe that. Maybe it’s just the cells, giving up. But not you, not if you’re a doctor. I never wanted to kill people, I wanted to save them. And then sometimes you have to make a choice.”

“What choice?” I said quietly. We were walking slowly now, almost in time with the waves of the canal hitting the stone walls.

“I said I would tell you something that never happened. Now, this once. And then I didn’t tell you. It never happened, we never talked of it. If you say we did, I will deny it. And by the way, everyone will believe me. You can never prove what happened. But we must make a truce, you and I. For everyone. Not a peace, you don’t want that, but a truce. Before you ruin your mother’s happiness. And your own life, with that-well, she is what she is. You think I made her that way? No. That I don’t have to live with.”

“Just her father.”

“Yes. I have to live with that. I’m not proud-this thing that never happened. Are you proud of everything you’ve done? Well, at your age it’s still possible. Not at mine. I’m a doctor, not assassino. He was dying. I knew he was dying. Nothing in the world was going to change that.”

“That doesn’t mean you had to help. You knew him.”

“Abramo? Yes. He was like her-difficult. Always looking for the slight. But no matter. He was dying. I had to make a choice, so I did. You can’t save the dead-only the living. So was I wrong? I knew what would happen to him. But I’m not ashamed, even now. It was the war. You had to choose the living.”

“Choose how? By reporting Jews?”

“They were not there for the Jews. For someone else. I don’t remember his name-maybe I never knew it. Anyway, it wouldn’t have been real. You know CLN?”

I nodded. “Partisans.”

“So someone fighting for Italy. That meant something, you know. I wanted to help. A man not sick, wounded. Bullet wounds. You couldn’t hide that. How could I lie about bullet wounds? They would have found him. They had a photograph-they knew who he was. And then what? ‘How long has he been here, dottore? You never reported this? A partisan?’ They were attacking Germans then. It wasn’t just sabotage, railroad tracks-they were actually killing them, so if you were caught, the Germans would make an example. There was no way to hide him in that hospital. I had to get him out, somewhere else. I had to make them go away, even for a little, get enough time to save him. So I gave them someone else.”

We were at the end of the fondamenta, facing into the wind coming off the lagoon. On the water, a covered funeral gondola bounced on the waves, heading toward the cypresses. Another one for San Michele.

“That’s some choice,” I said, looking out at the water.

“Yes,” he said, “a terrible choice. But not difficult. He was dying. The other man was living. How else could I save him?”

“And yourself.”

He looked at me. “Yes, myself, it’s true. It would have been bad for me if they had known I helped. But you know, at the time I wasn’t thinking about that. Of course you won’t believe that either. You want to judge-one thing or the other. But it wasn’t like that. Good and bad together, how do you judge that? You do things-well, how can you know what it was like? Villa Raspelli, you think I wanted that? How do you think it felt, putting my hands on them? Giving them medicine? Men like that. So you don’t look at the uniform, you don’t see it. Then you can do it, if it’s just a man.”

“So was Grassini.”

“A dying man. So I played God, yes. A sin. That’s what you wanted to know. Now you tell me something-what would you have done?”

I stared at the lagoon, choppy in the wind, and it seemed for an instant, as I watched it move, that everything in Venice was like its water, shifting back and forth.

“Why didn’t you tell her this?” I said finally.

“What difference would it make to her? Her father’s dead. I had a part in that, yes. Do you think she wants to know why? What reason would satisfy her? I’m not making excuses-it happened. But you, it’s different. I want you to know. What happened, happened. Or rather, it didn’t happen. Not now.”

“Why?”

“You think this is a time for explanations? Now it’s revenge, settling scores. I have a position here. These accusations-anti-Semite, collaborator. Always something sticks, however it was. Do you think people want explanations? No, they’re like you, they want black and white.”

“But if you helped a partisan-”

“Not everyone would love me for that, even now. Collaborator. Communist. It’s dangerous to take sides here. This one, that one, and someone is against you no matter what you do. So I do nothing. Nothing happened. I go on with my life. I don’t want the war again.” He looked at me for a minute, then turned toward the fondamenta. “I must go back. Anyway, now it’s said. Maybe it makes a difference to you, maybe not, I don’t know. I thought, a soldier, you’d know how these things were. What happened then, it’s hard to judge now. Do I still live with it? Yes, but shall I tell you something? A little less each day. Maybe that’s how the war ends. A little less each day until it’s over.”

“Not for everybody.”

“No, not everybody,” he said. “It never ends for them.”

“You talk as if it’s her fault.”

“No, but not mine either. I didn’t make the war.”

He said nothing for a few minutes, looking toward the houses across the canal, the same patchy plaster and shutters we’d seen that day going to lunch, before anything had happened.

“You know what ended it for me?” he said suddenly. “When your mother came back. I heard her laugh, and it was a laugh from before the war. And I thought, yes, it’s possible to have that life again. And we do. I won’t let anyone take that away now. Not that girl. Does she think she can bring the father back? I did what I did. There was a reason-at least for me it was a reason. Now you know it. Maybe it’s still not enough for you. But maybe it’s enough for a truce. That’s why I told you. If it’s enough to make a truce.”

“What do you mean by truce?”

“An end. Talk like this, it can make trouble for me. I want her to stop.” He looked directly at me. “I want you to stop.”

“You mean you want me to leave.”

He held my eyes for a second, then nodded. “After the wedding.”

Rosa Soriano was blond and stocky, the weight, I assumed, a matter of inheritance, because she took nothing with her morning tea, not even glancing at the rolls and jam the Bauer had laid out for breakfast. She had a heavy person’s surprising grace, her thick fingers barely touching the cup, lifting it in a delicate arc. Only her walk was clumsy, an awkward shuffle, still new to her, her body pitching forward but held back by the stiff leg she dragged along. “From the war,” she said when she saw me looking at it. “A German souvenir.” When she sat down she breathed out, a barely audible sigh of relief, and brought the leg under the table. The dining room was warm, despite the rain spattering on the terrace, but she had wrapped a shawl over a heavy jacket, a huddled, almost peasant look in a room walled with damask. Joe had said she’d wanted the trip, so I apologized for the rain, but she looked at me blankly, as if she hadn’t noticed it. She had come ready for business-a folder with papers and a notebook were at the side of the table.

“My mother was German,” she said, when I asked how she knew the language.

“So that explains the hair.”

She shrugged. “Italians are blond too. But not many speak German. So it was useful. My mother said it would be. Maybe not this way, working for the Americans.”

“Joe said you recognized his name.”

“The name, yes. Not his. His brother’s.”

“His brother? Paolo?”

“Yes,” she said, patting the folder. “Him I know well. But the other-” She shook her head, then gently put down the cup. “Then Joe asked me and ha, I thought, another Maglione, maybe that explains it.”

“Explains what?”

“The brother, Paolo, was often at Villa Raspelli. They kept a record of the visitors every day, so we only have to look at the sheet to see who was there. And then, I couldn’t understand it, his name was there after he died. How? I thought maybe the records made a mistake, but how do you make that mistake? A ghost signs in? So I look, and the writing is different, only the name is the same. G. Maglione.”

“G? Paolo?”

“Gustavo, his first name. That would be the name on any document, so of course the Germans-”

“But I don’t understand. He wasn’t a doctor.”

“Well, Villa Raspelli wasn’t a hospital. It’s-how do you say, casa di recovero? ”

“I don’t know-rest home? Recuperation center, I guess.”

“So, recuperation. You know, an officer is wounded. Maybe tired of the war. He goes to Villa Raspelli. He looks at Lake Garda, breathes the good air, he eats, he gets better. Maybe he has to practice walking. Maybe the arm is like this.” She made a gesture to indicate a cast. “But no one is dying. It’s casa di recovero, not a hospital. A club for butchers,” she said, her voice suddenly bitter.

“But then why did Gianni go there?”

She looked over, almost delighted, pleased with me. “That is an excellent question. A doctor from Venice? From the big hospital? Why not someone in Verona? I have the records. There were no serious illnesses there in this period. And you know, if it was serious they moved them out to a real hospital. This was der Zauberberg, a place to rest. But a doctor comes from Venice. So why?”

I said nothing, waiting.

“Of course, it is an excellent excuse. Doctors do go there. Maybe not from Venice, but they go. To make the checkups. How is the cast? You know. No one would think it unusual if he went there.”

“But you did.”

“Because I know what it was like. He wasn’t needed. Still, there he is. Not once, several times.” She pulled out one of the sheets and pointed. “G. Maglione. Not a ghost. As I say, an excellent excuse, if you were meeting someone. No suspicion at all. You meet the SS at Quadri’s, everyone notices. You meet secretly, someone finds out. But at Villa Raspelli no one questions it. You’re a doctor. Maybe someone has asked for you. Take a black bag, all out in the open. Wonderful.”

“Wait a minute. Back up. His brother went there. He wasn’t a doctor.”

“Well, Paolo didn’t need an excuse. They were his friends. You know about him?”

“Only what I read in the papers. A playboy.”

She nodded. “Yes. Racing cars. Then more games. The Order of Rome. You know that?”

I shook my head.

“A club, for boys like him. Young Fascists. Rich, stupid. For the new empire. Ha. Abyssinia. What did they care about Abyssinia? An excuse to get drunk, be stupid together. Harmless, and then not so harmless. The Germans began to use them. Of course, it was the Duce at Salo, but really the Germans.”

“Used them how?”

“To inform. To help fight the Communists. For someone like Paolo, that’s all you had to say. The Communists-that would be the end of everything, wouldn’t it? Better to make a bargain with the devil. So they did.”

“Over drinks at the Villa Raspelli.”

“Yes, many times. He was a favorite there-he must have been good company. Still a playboy. And of course there was the work to discuss. No more Abyssinia. Now he was saving us from the Communists. A hero. For Italy. For the Church. He wasn’t the only one like that, you know. There were lots of heroes. And now they answer for it.” She placed her hand on the folder, as if it were the prosecutor’s case.

“But not him.”

“No, he answered earlier.”

“A car crash.”

She took a sip of tea, calm. “No, he was killed.”

“I thought it went off the road.”

“It did. After.”

I looked at her, surprised. “Do you know that?”

“Yes,” she said simply.

I reached for the coffeepot, something to do while I took this in.

“But Gianni,” I said, “he wasn’t-what was it? Order of Rome?”

“No. I only knew about the brother. That’s why I’m here. To talk to you about this one.”

“Well, he wasn’t that. Like Paolo, I mean. Not a playboy. Not stupid, either. I can’t imagine him joining anything. He likes to keep his hands clean.”

“Not too clean. Isn’t that why you came to us?”

“That was something else. Not the Order of Rome. In his own way, he-” I looked up from my cup. “He told me he did it to save someone else. Who was in the hospital at the same time. A partisan.”

She lifted her head in surprise, then tipped it to one side, thinking. “A partisan,” she said quietly, turning it over another minute. She pushed at her sleeve, an absentminded gesture, moving the heavy cloth back until a splotch of white appeared, new skin, without color. I watched, fascinated, as she rubbed her finger over it, idly scratching. Another souvenir of the Germans? There was more of it, running up under her sleeve. How large had the burn been, the old skin blistering, coming off in peels? “Then he’s lying,” she said finally, startling me. I looked up from her arm. Her eyes were certain, not even a hint of doubt, so that suddenly I had to look away, ashamed somehow of feeling relieved, oddly elated.

“Are you sure?”

“The partisans in the Veneto were Communists. Does he seem to you a man who would help the Communists?”

“But not all-”

“Americans. Why is this so hard for you? Yes, Communists. Or people fighting with Communists. It comes to the same. Who else was fighting the Fascists? Not just at the end. And when the Nazis ran, who else was there to chase them? Hunt them down.”

“Were you there?” I said, trying to imagine it.

She nodded. “Of course.”

“A Communist?”

“My parents were. I was named for Rosa Luxemburg-my mother was her friend, in Berlin. So she had to leave, after they killed her, and my father was then in Milano-” She stopped. “Well, my parents, that’s for another day.”

“But not you.”

“Not when I work for the Americans.” She poured another cup of tea, then looked up. “This matters to you?”

“Just curious. So you were a partisan.”

“Yes, like everyone now. Then, not so many. Why do you think I do this work? I don’t forget what it was like, what the others did. The Magliones.”

“Both of them?”

“It’s the logic. Follow the dates,” she said, patting the folder again. “Paolo we know. A bastard. But his brother, no record. Paolo is killed by partisans. And now the brother appears on the guest list.”

“And not before?”

“No, I checked. After Paolo’s death. So now there’s another Maglione at Villa Raspelli. Why? The logic is, they appealed to him. ‘Help us avenge your brother.’ Does he say no? Then why go back? Not one visit, several.”

“And you don’t think he was treating anyone.”

“No, but at first I thought it could be. I only knew about the brother. Not this one, what he does, how he feels. That we have to guess. And then you tell us he’s reporting Jews to the SS. A doctor reporting Jews. You know this for a fact?”

“The daughter survived. She saw him do it.”

“Good. She would be willing to testify to this?”

“Yes,” I said, hesitant, wondering where she was going. “But-”

“So we have a link now. He helps the SS with the roundups. What else does he help them with? He’s not at Villa Raspelli to give aspirin, I think. It’s the logic.”

“But not the proof,” I said.

“No, not yet. But I’ll get it,” she said, scratching her arm again, excited.

“Proof of what?”

“After Paolo’s death, of course there were reprisals. This man was nothing to them, not really, but now he’s an excuse. Make an example for the partisans. Show them what happens when they-well, you can imagine. It’s the end, they’re desperate, and they were always butchers, so now they’re like crazy men. Torture. Terrible things. And it works. They begin to get the partisans, pick them off. Always it’s Communist uprisings they’re putting down, not the resistance. And once it’s very lucky-this time, a whole group. A house. And they burn it, with people inside. An atrocity. And the question is, who betrayed them?”

“But how could Gianni-?”

“No one betrayed them. Not that way. Someone led them to that house. It’s possible not even deliberately, not even knowing. I looked at everyone in that house, I made their files. Who would do it? No one.”

Her voice had gotten stronger, rising toward the end, so that one of the waiters looked over, thinking we were having an argument.

“You were in the house?” I said.

“Yes. Not everyone died. I was burned, but I lived. It’s strange, you know, because now I’m always cold. You would think-” She put both hands on the table, anchoring herself. “So I know who was there. But who did they follow? Who did they know to follow? Someone here,” she said, nodding at the folder. “And now you tell me something very interesting. You pray for them to make a slip. I think maybe he made the slip to you. But I need your help.”

“How?”

“The date. I need the date when he gave them the Jew, when the SS were there. In the autumn, yes, but when? Exactly. Do you know?”

“She would, I guess.”

“Good. When I get the hospital records, I can match the dates to the names.”

I looked at her, puzzled. “Why? What slip?”

She smiled slightly. “A man whose brother is Order of Rome, who visits SS, who reports Jews, this same man tells you he does this to save a partisan. How would he know? How would he know a man was a partisan?”

I said nothing. Not just the lie, the kind of lie.

“The man told him,” I said weakly, taking his side to see how it would fit.

“Who would tell him? Do you know how we lived? Other people’s names, identities-everything was secret. We trusted no one. And then you tell a man like that? With his sympathies?”

“But how would they know his sympathies?”

“Then you would not trust him. Unless you knew. Not with a life. You would not tell him.”

“But somebody must have.”

“Yes,” she said, lowering her head, “someone must. It’s possible, the SS. If they already knew. ‘Help us make the trap. Watch him. Tell us when to follow.’ Of course, it’s possible it was someone else. And he tells the SS, his new friends. But in the end they know. Who helps them?”

“If the partisan was there at all. Maybe he just made it up-something to tell me.”

“Such a story to make up,” she said. “A man who wasn’t there. It’s more usual, yes, to take the truth and bend it a little. Easier to answer questions, if you have to. Anyway, no matter. We’ll see if he was there. There were two people in that house from Venice.” She looked up. “And one of them had been wounded. I didn’t know he had been in the hospital, he wouldn’t have said. To protect whoever helped him. But I know when he came to us, so we match the dates. I know what name he used. What name did Maglione tell you?”

“He didn’t remember.”

“Ah,” she said, “a patient without a name. Then I find out, who did Maglione see at Villa Raspelli? I look at them, their files. And somewhere there’s a connection. If we’re lucky, someone alive. A witness. The Germans talk now-they like to tell us what their friends here did. You see? Not just us. It was the war. The Italians were no better.” She nodded. “We’re very close now.” She sat back, pouring more tea. “And for that I have you to thank. It never occurred to me to track the brother, and then one day Joe tells me he was reporting Jews. It’s like a chain, one thing to another, but you were the start.”

I looked out the rainy window, uncomfortable.

“You’ll give testimony, yes? And the daughter?”

“You intend to put him on trial?”

“Intend? Hope. It depends what we can prove.”

“You can prove he gave up Abramo Grassini.”

She shook her head. “Well, you know that was the law, to turn over the Jews. And the proof-whose word? I’m sorry. I don’t say it’s right, I say what is. But the one thing leads to the other, so it’s a help. With you, of course, it’s different. A credibility. For you to testify against him, what he told you-”

“But it’s hearsay. He’ll deny it.”

She leaned forward. “Let me tell you how they work, these trials. The victims are dead. So what do we have? Records, of course.” She held one up, a court exhibit. “Circumstances. Sometimes a witness. It’s difficult. We have to show the chain. The daughter knows something. You know something. A German knows something. Another. We make a chain of circumstance.” She put down the folder. “Sometimes a chain of lies. He lies to the daughter. He lies to you. Why? And then you see the chain and you pull it.” She moved her hands in a tugging gesture. “And you have him.”

“But technically-”

“These are special trials. The technicalities are different. It’s not the cinema, a murder trial.”

“It’s about murder.”

“No. Reputation. Maybe even social justice. There’s always that hope. But not murder.”

“Then they’ll get away with it.”

“They did get away with it,” she said quietly, so that the words hung over the table. “There’s no retribution after you’re dead. But people don’t know. And that they won’t get away with.” She sipped more tea, watching me over the cup. “You’re worried?”

“No,” I lied, suddenly seeing the tribunal table, my mother in the makeshift courtroom, Gianni glaring at me from the stand. “But I don’t like throwing mud in public either. If it’s just mud. I saw it in Germany. Nobody comes out looking good-you get just as dirty.”

She put down her cup. “Yes,” she said, a quick nod of agreement, “but I’ll still need you there.” She looked over at me. “It won’t be just mud.”

“And if you can’t prove it?”

“Well, I think I will. And it’s important, to have these trials. Otherwise-”

“Otherwise what?”

“The partisans find their own proof.”

Afterward I crossed back to the Dorsoduro side, uneasy, feeling things spinning out of control. All I’d wanted was to get my mother out of a mistake. Now it was something else. How could I testify against him? It would be terrible for everyone and justice for whom? Rosa was right about that, anyway. He had already gotten away with it.

A little past San Ivo a canal was being dredged, a dirty job saved for winter, when no visitors were here to see. Wooden planks dammed each end so big rubber hoses could pump out the water, leaving a floor of mud, just a few feet down, where workmen in boots were shoveling muck and debris into carts. The mud covered everything, spattering the workers’ blue coveralls, hanging in clots on the canal walls, just below the line of moss. Gianni’s great fear: mud would stick if someone dredged it up. I thought of him on the terrace at Lake Garda, having drinks with the men who’d ordered the trains. I’d met them in Germany, men still unsure why they were being accused. But those were the ones in cells, worn and frightened, out of their protective uniforms, awaiting judgment. The others, in the street, just went about their business, so ordinary there was no way to know, no haunted looks, no furtive tremor from unwanted memories. The crime hadn’t stuck to them. They had gotten away with it, free to walk around, even marry a rich woman. They smiled over the dinner table. Nobody knew. And that they won’t get away with, Rosa had said, asking for help.

But a trial. I imagined the courtroom, me on the stand, Claudia on the stand, and I knew my mother would-what, break? No, she was more resilient than that. But a body blow leaves a bruise. You survive, but not quite the same. She had survived my father’s death, with a stray look of sadness that never quite left her now. Those first years, bright for my sake, she worked hard at making us happy, putting part of herself aside, as if it were something she could stow away in a closet for later. But of course it was gone, spent on me. And now there’d be another blow, leaving her bruised and reeling again, harder this time to come back, already weakened, never expecting it to come from me. She’d get over Gianni, but not that, not a trial.

But then he’d get away with it again. I watched the workmen sliding in the wet muck. In a few days they’d be finished, the garbage and the smell gone, and the water would flood back, the surface a mirror again, dazzling, so that when you came to it, around the corner, you felt you were stepping into a painting. I stared down at the mud, unable to move, as if my feet had actually sunk into it, still trying to find a way out.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Mimi was lucky in everything but the weather. Il Gazzettino was already calling the ball the first important social event since the war, the one that would restore Venice “to her place in international society.” People were coming from London. There had been a gratifying squabble over invitations-our marchesa upstairs, not one of the lucky ones, went to visit her sister in Vicenza. Peggy Guggenheim said she was coming from New York and then didn’t, which allowed Mimi to use her name in the columns without having to put up with her. A generator was found to keep the palazzo blazing with light if there was a power failure. The food arrived on time. And then it rained.

She had planned on a spring evening, one of those first mild days softer in Venice than anywhere else, but the air stayed cold and it rained off and on all day. The special torches at the water entrance on the Grand Canal had to be covered, an awning set up. Footmen with umbrellas would help guests from their boats to the door, but inevitably clothes would get wet. The photographers had to be moved indoors, away from the entrance shots with San Marco in the background. All this my mother learned in a series of phone calls that got more frantic as the afternoon wore on. Finally Mimi insisted that my mother go there to dress.

“Like bridesmaids,” my mother said. “She says my hair will be a mess otherwise. Can you imagine? A little rain.” But she was helping Angelina with the garment bag, carefully smoothing out any folds in the long skirt.

“She’s nervous,” I said. “She wants company.”

“Mimi doesn’t have nerves. She just can’t stand anyone making an entrance. Easier to have them already there. Well, I don’t mind. To tell you the truth, it does frizz up when it’s like this,” she said, touching her hair. “Anyway, I’d rather see everything. Gianni’s always late, and you can’t say a word because it’s always medical. At least this way I won’t miss anything. Darling, would you call the hospital and tell him to meet me there, at Mimi’s? I couldn’t get through before. He’ll probably be pleased-now he can be as late as he likes without someone harping at him. But not too late. I can’t dance by myself. Would you?”

“All right,” I said. We were still living in the temporary peace of pretending nothing had happened.

“I’m taking Angelina, but you can fend for yourself, can’t you?” Mimi had already borrowed the rest of the staff for the day.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m going out.”

“I wish you’d change your mind. Everyone in Venice is dying to be there and you go to the movies.”

“We’re not going to the movies.”

“Well, wherever you’re going. I can’t imagine wanting to miss this. You know Mimi, if there’s one thing she-” She stopped midstream, asked Angelina to take the garment bag away, then turned to me. “It’s that girl, isn’t it?”

“You don’t want me to bring her to Mimi’s, do you?”

“Well, not if-but I thought all that business was over and done with. Gianni said it was. He said you’d talked.”

I looked away. “She doesn’t have a dress.”

“Well, you can borrow a dress. That’s not a problem.”

“Some other time.”

“What other time? A thing like this? She’d probably enjoy it, you know. Anybody would.”

“I don’t think Gianni would.”

“Ask him. If he doesn’t mind, then-” She looked up at me. “I’m so glad things are better. I knew if you would just-Well, I’m off. She’ll be calling again. Funny how her lines never go down. Don’t forget the hospital. And I’d ask him about the girl. He might surprise you.”

“All right.”

“Oh, look, it’s starting up again. Poor Mimi.” She giggled. “Well, it is unfair. You know, we used to come to Venice for the beach. You never saw a drop one week to the next. And now look.”

An hour later the phones were clear and I reached Gianni in his office, but I didn’t ask him about Claudia and I didn’t tell him to go to Mimi’s. Instead I said my mother wanted him to come for her earlier than they’d planned. And where was she now? At the hairdresser’s. Of course. Easy lies. After another twenty minutes of busy signals and scratchy connections I got the hotel where I’d moved Claudia and left a message that I’d be a little late. Then there was nothing to do but wait, the house growing quiet around me, not even the faint sound of maids’ slippers in the back rooms.

The rain stopped, then started again, a light drizzle that covered the Giudecca across the channel like a scrim. I stood at the window looking at the Redentore and thinking what to say. I wanted it clear in my mind so that it would come out as easily as a white lie about the hairdresser. One chance to make him believe me, finally put an end to it. Be careful about everything, even eye contact. Still, what choice would he have?

It was a while before I realized the room was getting darker. No more umbrellas on the Zattere, just people hurrying home with packages. A few calles away, Mimi and my mother would be looking into mirrors, finishing their makeup while the maids stood by with their pressed gowns. Mimi’s palazzo was just up from the Dario, so the vaporettos stopping at Salute would see the lights coming on, the chandeliers in the great front rooms reflecting out on the canal. You could walk there from anywhere in Dorsoduro in minutes, but everyone would want to go by water and be seen. It occurred to me that Gianni would probably have a boat too, and I went downstairs to open the water gate and turn on the lights in the murky entrance where Claudia and I had kissed that night. Same gondola up on its storage rack, the pile of paving stones under a tarp, the utility boat bobbing outside near the mossy steps. If we’d followed the kiss, just left the house instead of climbing the stairs-but we hadn’t.

I left the connecting door open and put on the lights in the hall, once a single room that ran the length of the house, water to calle. Off it were some smaller rooms we never used, presumably old offices or receiving rooms, now just extra work for the maids. Good enough, however, for a conversation. It was already dark upstairs. Why bother with the chandeliers if I was about to leave too? No need to be polite-a few minutes, not even a drink.

I lit a cigarette and sat waiting in one of the chilly side parlors. Where was he? Now that I’d decided what to do, even convinced myself it was right, any delay seemed to stretch out the time, make it seem even longer than it was. I looked at my watch. Always late, my mother had said. I began to fidget, impatient, picking at the fraying upholstery on the arm of the chair. Maybe she’d called him after all, told him to go to Mimi’s. And maybe he was just late. I got up and walked toward the water entrance again, moving to keep warm. No sound of rain outside. Mimi might be lucky after all.

The street bell made me jump, the sound bouncing off the marble floors, jarring in the quiet house. Another ring, insistent, to make Angelina run for it. He had his finger up to ring again when I opened the door.

“Adam,” he said, surprised. He looked toward the dark stairs. “Where’s your mother? Am I so late?” He glanced down at his watch.

“No, she went over earlier to hold Mimi’s hand.”

“But you said-”

“I wanted to talk to you.”

“Ah,” he said, noncommittal, still at the door.

I opened it wider. He was dressed formally, white tie, everything crisp and shiny. Even in the halfhearted hall light the shirtfront glowed. I had never thought of him as handsome before, but formal clothes brought out the best in him. The slicked-back silver hair, bright eyes, smooth-shaven skin-everything looked dressed up, stage romantic. When he reached into his breast pocket, I almost expected to see a silver cigarette case, but it was only a pack, not yet opened.

“So I’m not in the doghouse,” he said, pulling off the cellophane. “She says it’s terrible how I’m late. You’re expecting someone by boat?” He looked toward the water entrance, the dark canal beyond.

“I thought you might hire a gondola-for Mimi’s.”

“I don’t hire gondolas. I have a gondola. Anyway, I prefer to walk.” He lit a cigarette, peering at me as he closed the lighter. “What did you want to talk about?”

“I want to make a truce.”

“I thought we had a truce.”

“A new one. Different.”

“Ah,” he said, marking time. He gestured to the staircase. “You want to talk here?”

“It won’t take long. Anyway, you don’t want to crease your tails.”

“All right,” he said, displeased. “So?”

“Here’s the way this one works. You’re going to leave my mother, end it. I’ll take her away-home, if she’ll go. Anyway, not here. You won’t see us again.”

He sighed. “What a nuisance you’ve become. Like a child.”

“I can get her away in a week. Maybe two.”

“And when am I supposed to do this? Tonight, at the ball?” he said, toying. “Another scene? Will your friend be there? For the drama?”

“This week,” I said steadily. “Tomorrow, why not? Maybe you realized tonight, it can never be. Two different worlds-you figure out what to say. It wouldn’t be the first time, would it?”

He looked away, not rising to this, and started walking slowly toward the water entrance. “And why would I do this?”

“Because I’m going to do something for you.”

He turned. “Don’t do anything for me. I don’t want anything from you.”

“You’ll want this. I’m going to save your life.”

He stopped, staring at me. “What are you talking about?”

“Your trial.”

“My trial,” he said, toneless, waiting.

I moved toward him. “You know, none of this would have happened if you hadn’t started with the first lie. Your old friend Grassini. You didn’t expect it-it was all of a sudden, her coming at you, so of course you’d deny it. Anybody’s first instinct. But then you kept lying about it. Now why was that? Strictly speaking, it wasn’t even illegal. And you wouldn’t have been the only one. But here you are, just her word against yours and everybody happy to sweep it under the carpet, and still you get all excited. Ride it out? No. You try to get rid of her, make her go away. At the time, I didn’t think. I was ashamed for you. I thought this is how anyone would feel, to have this known. But you were never ashamed of that. Your reputation would have survived it. Others’ have. But you had to get rid of her. Now why was that?”

“This is so hard for you to understand? Talk like that.”

“No, that’s not it. You didn’t want people talking at all. Looking into it. Grassini meant nothing to you. But think what else they might find, once they started looking into things. That you had to stop.”

He picked up an ashtray from the hall table and rubbed out his cigarette. “Really,” he said finally. “What makes you think so?”

“Because I did look into it.”

“You did.”

I nodded. “With some friends in the AMG. They do fieldwork for war crimes trials. You scoop up a German, you’d be surprised what else swims into the net.”

His eyes widened. “What else?”

“A brother who ran errands for the SS and got bumped off by partisans. A whole series of cozy dinners at Villa Raspelli-no stethoscopes, just you and the boys in black. They have records. They also have the Germans. Can’t stop talking, it seems. Don’t care a bit what happens to their old Italian buddies. Happy to help out. See, once you start looking into things-”

“Why are you doing this?” he said, his voice quiet, stunned, the earlier smooth polish gone.

“To make a truce,” I said. “To get rid of you.”

“You hate me so much.”

“All of you. Look at you. Fucking Fred Astaire, and a year ago you were putting people on trains. Ever see what happened to them? I’d take you down in a minute if I could, but I’m not going to let you take my mother with you. So you get a break. Which is a lot more than you gave Claudia’s father, and who knows who else. Your famous partisan.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“That was good. You explain away one lie with another. What made you think I’d believe the new one? You killed him too.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Had him tracked, I should say. You never pull a trigger yourself. A whole bunch of them this time, thanks to you. They’re preparing the case now. Check with the hospital-see if anybody called about the records, first week in October, 1944.”

“But it’s not true,” he said, pale now.

“You want to know something? I don’t give a shit. I think it is true. And if this isn’t, something else will be. One way or another, they’ll get what they need. They’re good. And you were so close-getting away with everything. Except Claudia came back.”

He stared at me, not saying anything, his eyes still wide.

“The problem is, they want me to testify.”

“Testify? To what?”

“Our little heart-to-heart about the partisan, for one thing. It gives the story a certain heft. Not to mention it’s a confession about Claudia’s father, which isn’t going to win you any friends in court.”

“You can’t prove any of this,” he said, panting a little. “A trial. They can’t prove anything.”

“Well, they might. In fact, I’d bet on it. On the other hand, anything can happen in court. I’ve seen it. You might get lucky. But either way it’ll be a circus. You don’t want me on the stand, and I don’t want to put my mother through it. So this time you really get lucky. No trial. You just go away. No, better-we’ll go away. All you lose is the money.”

“Bastard,” he said, trying to control himself. “Keep your money.”

“I will. I guess the usual thing would be to buy you off, but I figure you’re getting a great deal anyway. You go on as if nothing ever happened. Of course I can’t say about later-this kind of stuff has a way of coming out. But I can stop it for now, and that’ll buy you time. Then, who knows? Things change.”

“Stop it how?”

“I’ll get them to close the case. I can do it. I guess it’s obstructing justice in a way, but I’ll do it. That’s the truce. I don’t want a trial.” I looked at him. “And neither do you.”

“ Marmocchio,” he said, almost under his breath, a rumbling. “ Sei uno stronzo. Cazzo.”

“Not very nice, I guess. Whatever it is.”

“You shit. No, you know sciocco? Fool. You are a fool. I’ve tried everything with you.”

“Then try this. We’ll go away and your troubles will be over.”

“My only trouble is you. Crazy. Maybe that’s it, still crazy from the war. Maybe it affected your mind. You think you’re still in Germany? Always the Jews. Here, it’s another place. Not Germany, not the same. You want to put people on trial? For what, suffering in the war?”

“Not everybody suffered. You look like you’re doing all right.”

“It’s that Jewish whore. She makes you crazy. A woman like that. How many did she sleep with there? They should put her on trial.”

I stared at him, not responding, clenching my hands.

“But right now,” I said finally, “they’d rather have you.”

“You did this. You made this trouble.”

“No, you made it. But I can stop it. That’s the deal.”

He turned to leave. “You can go to hell. Do you think you can come here and put me on trial? Like a criminal? No, it’s a farce. You will be the one with the bad name, not me. A shame to your mother. Saying lies-and then, where’s the proof? Nowhere. No proof. You can’t prove anything.”

“Well, see, that’s the thing. They don’t necessarily have to prove it.”

“What?” he said, stopping.

“Not the people I talked to, anyway. They prefer it-professional pride. But sometimes, with the right guy, it’s enough just to say what they know, go public with it. Somebody else figures out the rest. Old partisans, maybe. Then they take care of it their own way.” He had paled again. “I told you I wanted to save your life. They did it to your brother. They wouldn’t think twice about doing it to you. Not once they know.” I looked at him. “You don’t want this trial.”

“It’s lies,” he said quietly.

“Then you have nothing to worry about.”

“You don’t understand anything here-what these people are like.”

“I thought they were friends of yours. The one you helped-he’d speak for you, wouldn’t he? Or was he in the house that burned?”

“You-” Not finding the word, sputtering.

“Of course, they didn’t know about your other friends, over at Villa Raspelli. What are you going to say that was?” I shook my head. “It’s a great cover until the Germans talk. You know how they are, keeping track of everything. Reports to Berlin. Duplicates here. Verona, I guess. Everything that happened. All their little hopes and dreams. Their friends.” I stopped. “You don’t want this trial. They’d knock you off before you were halfway through. I don’t want any part of that. Not that you don’t have it coming. But I’m not going to be the one to do it. Make the truce.”

“You’re threatening me?”

“Make the truce.”

“ Cazzo, make it yourself,” he said, throwing up his hand as he brushed past me so that it accidentally caught my shoulder. I reacted by flinging up my arm to push it away. A flicker of motion, but enough to trigger an alarm in his head. I didn’t even see the hand come up, just felt it on my chest as he pushed me back in a fury, banging my head against the wall. “Don’t you dare raise a hand to me,” he said, panting, holding me.

“Let go,” I said, seeing only the blur of his white front, his hand coming out of a starched cuff. Then his face, clearer now, eyes glaring at me.

“You think I wouldn’t do it? Bah.” He loosened his hold, then dropped his hand. “And make more trouble. So you can run to Mama.”

“That’s right,” I said, staring at him. “You like someone else to do it. Even better when it’s official. When it’s the right thing to do.”

“Go to hell.” He started toward the door, smoothing back the sides of his hair, then turned. “I warn you.”

We stared at each other, a standoff, broken suddenly by the front doorbell. For a second neither of us moved, not yet jolted out of ourselves, then I stepped away from the wall.

“Fix your tie,” I said, brushing past him.

“ Cazzo,” he said, spitting it, but he went over to the mirror to adjust himself, public again.

I opened the door to Claudia, looking worried, her hair a little scraggly in the moist air.

“So you are here,” she said. “The lights are out upstairs.”

“Didn’t you get my message?”

“Yes, but it’s late.” She stopped, seeing Gianni in the hall. “Oh.”

“Ha, the whore,” Gianni said. “Now everything is complete. The cazzo and his whore. A perfect couple.”

“Shut up,” I said.

“Why is he here?” Claudia said.

“To listen to nonsense. Now I go.”

Claudia looked at me. “What nonsense?”

“Nothing,” I said, drawing her in. “Just a little talk.”

“Talk,” Gianni said. “Nonsense.”

“You’re right,” I said, turning to him. He was elegant again, his hair back in place. “It is nonsense. Why bother? I don’t want a truce either. Not anymore.”

“No? What do you want?”

“I want to nail you. I want people to know.”

“At my so-called trial.”

“That’s right, at your trial. I’m looking forward to it.”

“What trial?” Claudia said. “What are you talking about?”

“More drama for you,” Gianni said. “You like so much to make scenes. Now you can tell everybody where your bed was at the camp. All your special privileges-how you earned them. He wants you to tell everybody. He wants people to know.”

“Stop it,” I said.

“My lawyer will ask the questions. I guarantee it. At this trial you want.”

Claudia moved from the door, backing into the hall. He followed her with words.

“You think I don’t know about you? Someone attacks me, I ask questions. I find out. Vanessi, the man at the camp-you think he would keep a woman out of pity? No. And not once, months. Not forced, a mistress. Someone who liked it. Who liked him, maybe.”

“No,” Claudia said softly.

“So, an actress. Maybe still acting.” He turned to me. “This is what you want? A wonderful witness. The camp whore.”

“Stop it,” I said.

“No, it doesn’t stop, once it starts. How can you stop it? Hold up your hand, like traffic? You think I won’t fight back? You make this trouble and then you think you can stop it. No, not when you like. So you shame her and it doesn’t stop there. Until everybody’s dirty. Then what? Nothing. You will win nothing.”

“I don’t have to win,” I said. “I just have to let them see you.”

He stared at me again for a minute. “I’m not going to let you do that,” he said finally. “Understand that. Never.”

His voice was low and steady, the same calm menace I’d heard in the restaurant, and I felt a prickling. It had already started, beyond fixing now, any polite truce.

“That’s what you think,” I said.

“Never,” he repeated, his voice still low. “Go home.”

“I’m not leaving her. Not with you.”

“You don’t know how it is. You don’t know anything. A fool. Like the father. Just like the father. He saw nothing. Under his nose, still nothing.”

“Saw what?” I said, feeling clenched, as if his hand were pushing me again.

“You think it’s the first time, with your mother? You know nothing. The father’s son. Another fool.”

A snap in my head, like the click of a safety.

“Shut up,” I said. “Just shut up.”

“Both of you, fools.” Each word like a prod with a stick.

“Shut up,” I said, my hands springing up without my being aware of it, pushing him back, away from me.

The shove caught him off-guard, so he staggered before he could catch his balance, his weight pulling him back toward the wall, his head hitting the edge of one of the sconces.

“Adam!” Claudia said, somewhere out of my line of vision.

Gianni put his hand to the back of his head, then looked at it, streaked with blood. I saw the white of his dress shirt, his blank expression, the smeared hand, everything utterly still, and then the blood seemed to jump, alive, as he lunged for me. I reared back, keeping my throat out of reach so his hand struck my chest. Then we were both falling, his hands now pounding at me, wild. The smell of blood. Claudia yelled something.

“ Cazzo!” Gianni said, punching me.

I had never fought anyone hand to hand. Combat had always been a few kilometers away, even across a field. Now I could feel his breath on me, that close. I rolled away, not thinking, instinct. Protect your eyes. Get up. Now. No pattern to it, a blur, slaps and grabs and sudden bursts of pain.

I pulled at his shirt, the stiff white front, to draw him closer, immobilize his arms, but he pushed me away, landing one hand on the side of my face. I felt a dull burning and moved back. One of his shirt studs had popped out, opening up a patch of hairy skin in the evening clothes, suddenly primitive, what was real underneath.

I looked at the furious eyes, the disheveled hair, and saw that he was right, it wouldn’t stop now. His hand caught me again, my ear went hot, stinging, and I punched back until both of us were wrestling, close in, falling to the floor again in a heap, pulling each other down the hall, trying to find a position, any kind of advantage. Then his grip loosened and I grabbed a chair, pulling myself up away from him. In a second he was on one knee, then pitched forward, pounding me in the side, a throbbing ache that didn’t go away, that would bruise.

“Stop it!” Claudia yelled, following us.

“Whore!” Gianni said, as if he were punching her too, finishing all of it.

I grabbed at him again, pushing, but he was ready this time and instead caught me and knocked me down. I dodged a kick, sliding away from his foot, then scrambled up and moved back toward the water entrance, the sound of my own breathing loud in my head. He followed, arms reaching out, implacable, the moving line at bayonet practice. No time to hesitate. Do it.

I jumped at him, my fist aiming at his nose, and smashed down. He howled, weaving a little, his hands to his face, looking up at me in shock. I backed away. There were red spots on the shirtfront now, then a longer drip, blood running out of his nose.

“Stop it!” Claudia said, grabbing his arm. He brushed her away, a gnat, and started toward me, implacable again. But he was slower this time, obviously in pain.

“All right,” I said, panting. “Enough.” A man my father’s age, not a soldier. Already slowing down, bound to get hurt. My father’s age. His friend, in fact, betraying him too. Not the first time. I held up my hand. “Enough.”

But he was looking down at his ruined shirt, bright with blood, not hearing me, dazed and then shaking, excited, everything about him ready to move. And maybe just then I wanted it too, that rush of blood.

He looked up at me, a quick glance, then, before I could move, he rammed his head into my stomach, knocking me over. I landed with a thud on the pile of paving stones poking up bluntly beneath the tarp, so that for an instant, winded, all I could feel was a spasm of pain. Then my head fell back too as he jumped on me, hands on my throat.

“Stop it! Stop it!” Claudia was hitting him on the back, trying to pull him off, but he was oblivious, lost in his own adrenaline strength, tightening his hands on my windpipe. I choked. I could feel the blocks against my back, then the wetness of the tarp. Everything smelled of damp, the slick steps, the canal. I tried to wriggle out of his grip, punching his sides, but the hands didn’t budge and now began to shake me, banging my head against the tarp. I looked into his face and found no expression at all, just a kind of strained exertion as he kept his hands in place. Beyond him there were dim lights, the gondola up on its support rack, Claudia flailing at his back, her face frantic now. She pulled on his collar, yanking his head back, and I saw, absurdly, that the white tie was still in place, but then I was choking again, beginning to feel dizzy, without enough breath to shove his body off mine. Claudia was shouting, still pounding on his back, but I couldn’t make out the words, indistinct behind the pulse in my ears and the faint wheezing coming from my throat.

Then suddenly a look came into his eyes, hesitant, a question to himself, and I felt the hands loosen, a quick rush of air. I lay still, waiting for him to lift his hands away, and he was blinking, as if waking, still looking down at me in a kind of surprise, unaware of the shadow over him-Claudia, her face pulled tight, a paving stone in her hand now, raised high, then smashing down on the back of his head. His eyes went wide. A grunt, then he fell on me, pinning me under dead weight.

Everything stopped, no sound at all but the soft lapping of the canal against the steps. His head had fallen to the side of mine and I listened for breathing, anything. Then the stone slid off his back onto the floor, a thunk, and I felt blood oozing down his neck. Thick, still warm. I pushed at him, gently at first, then with a heave, until he rolled off, turning onto his back. Claudia stood looking at him, shaking.

“Oh god. I thought-” Her voice was shaking too.

I got up and bent over with my hands on my knees, the air still coming in ragged gulps. How long had it been? One minute? Two? Like a flash of light. One flash and everything was different.

“He was going to-” Claudia was saying.

No, he was going to stop. But before I could say it, Claudia made a sound, a kind of frightened yelp.

“He’s not moving. Is he moving?”

I looked down. Eyes closed. A small pool of blood under his head. But not spreading. If his heart were still pumping, there’d be more blood, wouldn’t there?

“Oh god. Now they’ll-”

I shook my head, rubbing my throat with my hand. “No, it was a fight.”

“No. No,” she said, a wail. “They’ll say I killed him. I did kill him. They’ll send me-” All in a rush, like blood pouring out. She had folded her arms over her chest, holding herself, a protection, as if someone were already there to take her away.

I looked up, catching her eyes, the fear in them, and felt it too, a queasiness in the stomach, both of us in a helpless free fall, using our eyes to hold on. I was still breathing hard, excited, and the fear was like another surge, my skin warm with it, stronger even than sex but like it too, connecting us, because we both felt it. Her eyes were shiny with the fear, letting me in, closer than we’d ever been.

“They’ll send me-” she said again, feebly, almost to herself, and I saw what she had already imagined, how it would look: the engagement party, a public attack, then the private killing, driven to it. Nothing else would be believed.

I looked down at Gianni again, not moving, then back into her eyes. Frantic, the way they’d been, standing over him with the stone raised. For me.

“We have to get him out of here,” I said.

“Out of here. But they’ll know-he came here.”

“Nobody knows that. Nobody knows you came here either. Nobody. We have to get him out.”

“Out,” she said vaguely, meaning how.

“The tarp,” I said, stepping away from his body to reach the edge of the covering. “We’ll wrap him in this.” Two pieces. One would never be missed.

“Oh god,” Claudia said, not moving.

“We’ll have to use the boat.”

“The boat,” Claudia said dully.

“We can’t carry him through the streets. We have to dump him in the lagoon.”

“They’ll find him.”

“Not if we weight him down. Here, give me a hand with this.”

“But they’ll look. They’ll ask questions.”

“We never saw him. Quick,” I said, gesturing at the tarp.

“You’ll be in trouble too. For me. The police-”

I went over and took her by the shoulders, still trembling under the coat.

“I need you to help me move him. To get him on the tarp. Can you do that?”

She said nothing for a minute, just looked at me.

“Nobody will know,” I said, then let my hands slide away from her. “We need to roll him over. Onto the tarp.”

“There’s blood,” she said quietly.

“Take his feet,” I said, still looking at her.

Then she nodded, calmer, almost herself again. She stepped to the other side of the body and bent down to grab his legs. I looked at him again. Shiny leather shoes, white tie, already dressed for burial.

I crouched down and put my hands on his shoulders, ready to push.

“Okay, when I say-”

A groan, faint enough to be a sound out on the canal, then an almost imperceptible twitch in his arm. Another groan, louder this time, and Claudia made a little cry, her hands to her mouth, and jumped away.

“Oh god,” she said. “He’s not dead.”

A stiff body, no longer pumping blood. It had never occurred to me to check. Now I leaned over him, listening, my fingers touching the side of his neck. But what were you supposed to feel? A pulse, any movement at all. If he were alive, there’d be breath. I put my ear next to his mouth. For a second, nothing, then the faint gagging sound again. I looked up at Claudia, our eyes meeting across the body. Alive. To have her arrested, sent-out of the way. Ruin everything. I felt a slight movement in his shoulder and looked back down. Eyes still closed. A blotch of red on his shirtfront. Just dead and now alive again, unstoppable. No expression on his face-maybe the way it had been, nodding at the hospital, sitting on the terrace at Villa Raspelli, calmly leaning over my mother, touching her soft throat. Not the first time. Unstoppable, about to get away with all of it. Get us out of the way. I looked up at Claudia again, the same shiny eyes, and then grabbed his shirtfront and began dragging him to the steps.

“Adam,” she said, but what I heard was the scrape of his clothes across the stone floor, another whispered groan. The back of his head left a smear of blood behind. Unstoppable.

I dragged him over to the steps, then, kneeling, pushed his head into the water and held it there, forcing it down, my arms clenched, shaking. Do it. A whimper from where Claudia was standing. I felt the wet creep along my legs. Nothing moved in the water, then a few bubbles appeared, rising out of his mouth, and the body began to twitch, maybe an unconscious reaction, a last gasp. Not thrashing for life, just a series of twitches. I held his head under by the throat, hearing my own blood in my ears, watching the bubbles. How long? Then suddenly his body shook and his eyes flew open and I felt they could see me through the mirror of water, knew it was me leaning over him with my hand on his throat, choking him, until the water finally rushed in and forced out the last bubble. I held him for another minute, until nothing moved at all, then stood up slowly, my arms dripping with water. His eyes were still open, rigid now, not focused on anything. I took a deep breath and for a second expected the fear again, the free fall in my stomach, but what I felt, dazed, was the ease of it. A matter of a minute to kill. In the war we always wondered if we could do it, stick the bayonet in. And now I had, with no more effort than it would take to nod.

I turned to Claudia, but neither of us said anything. I could hear a ship’s horn-the moist air in the lagoon was probably thickening to fog. Easier to hide. I nodded at the wall switch.

“Get the lights. We don’t want anybody-”

Claudia glanced down at Gianni, his leather shoes sticking up incongruously on the water stairs, then went over to the wall.

With only the lamps from the indoor hall, we had to work in shadows. I looked across the canal to the neighboring buildings. A few upstairs lights, the rest of the windows dark. No one seemed to have noticed anything. Even the marchesa was away. I pulled the boat around.

I laid out the tarp, then dragged Gianni up to it by the feet, hearing thuds as his head hit the stairs. I pitched him forward so that he was sitting up, then started to take off his jacket, struggling with the arms.

“What are you doing?”

“We have to wipe up the blood. I don’t want to use anything here. They might miss it. That’s it. Okay, use this, then we’ll throw it in with him.”

She hesitated for a second, not understanding, then looked at me, dismayed. I nodded. She waited another second, staring, then shivered and took the wet jacket and began mopping the floor around us as I moved him onto the tarp. We threw the jacket over him and weighed it down with paving stones, then rolled the tarp over and tied it at each end with some rope I found near the water gate. I didn’t think anyone could see us in the half-light of the room, but we worked quickly, making sure the blood was gone, then lugging the heavy bag toward the steps.

“Here, let me steady it, we’ll just slide him in.”

Claudia was sweating, her face flushed from the lifting, and when she looked up, waiting for me, I felt the closeness again, not fear this time, something more intimate, in it together.

I was lifting the rolled tarp over the gunwale when the phone rang. We froze. Two phones ringing, one upstairs, one in the hall. Looking for him. Drawing attention to the house. I stood still, as if any movement might be seen through the water gate, eyes peering around the edge of curtains, curious about the phone. When it stopped, I realized I had been holding my breath.

I took up the tarp again. “On two,” I said, and she lifted with me and he was in, the boat rocking from the sudden movement. I steadied it with my foot and reached out my hand to help her in. She stopped, a small panic in her eyes.

“I can’t swim,” she said.

“Do you want to stay?” I said.

She glanced quickly at the dim entryway, then shook her head and stepped in, clenching my hand until she sat.

“It’s cold. You’ll need a coat,” she said, motioning toward my jacket, wet at the sleeves.

“No time,” I said, untying the boat and pushing off into the canal. “We’ll have to use the oars until we get farther out. The motor’s too loud.”

As we floated quietly toward the Zattere, it occurred to me, a stray thought, that nothing ever changed in Venice. Muffled oars, a body taken away in the night. I looked across at Claudia. Over fans at La Fenice.

The rain had left a heavy mist over the water. When we reached the Giudecca channel, there were a few distant shafts of yellow lights from boats and a much stronger wind that cut into my wet sleeves. I lowered the small outboard motor into the water and jerked hard on the starter cord. A sputter, not much more than a grunt. How long since it had been used? Was there even gas in the tank? Another pull. Why not just dump him here? The Giudecca was a deep channel, not one of the shallow city canals, but too near. The tides that flushed out the city could flush things back in. I imagined Gianni stuck just a few feet underwater in a side canal, waiting for the dredgers. Better to get him out into the lagoon, even if it meant rowing. But that would take hours. I pulled on the cord again. A louder sputter, as if it were choking on itself.

“Adam.”

I turned. A vaporetto had pulled away from its stop on the Giudecca and was heading across toward us, its headlights growing brighter through the mist. I pulled the cord again. The pilot would see us, not run us down. And then be curious-what would anybody be doing out at this hour, in the cold? A witness.

I let the cord sit for a second, not wanting to flood the motor, then yanked it. A louder sputter, almost catching, lost under the noise of the vaporetto. The light was closer. I yanked again. A small cough, then another, settling into a series of spitting exhaust noises as the motor came to life.

“Hold on,” I said, then let out the choke and swung us away from the approaching boat into the dark, close enough to feel a lift from its wake.

I had no idea where to go, except away from the city, somewhere beyond the lights. The open sea, past the barrier islands, was too long a trip and in the dark too dangerous. The lagoon itself was a maze of currents and shallow water-you heard stories about visitors who ended up stuck on an unexpected mudbank. You were only safe if you followed the channel markers.

I turned at the tip of the Giudecca and went behind San Giorgio Maggiore, putting the island between us and San Marco. It was darker here, the thick mist broken only by tiny marker lights, a few bobbing on buoys, the others on those fence posts the Venetians use to outline their water roads. If other boats were out, they’d be here too, hugging the safety of the channel, but what choice was there? In the mist, without even starlight, to drift away from the markers would be to circle in complete darkness. With a dead man in the boat.

I glanced down at the rolled-up tarp, the first time I’d even thought about it. A dead man. Would the blocks be enough to hold the body to the bottom, or would the tides dislodge it? What if they never found him at all?

I moved the boat out of the main channel, keeping parallel to it, the markers in sight. Boat traffic might churn up something from the bottom-this distance could give it a small margin, let it lie undisturbed. The mist was gathering in patches now, almost fog. I squinted, afraid of missing any of the markers. Behind us San Marco had disappeared, just a vague light source without definition. Claudia was bent over in the prow, looking down, arms wrapped tightly around herself, and I realized that it must be cold, that I should be shivering in my damp jacket and instead felt flushed, still excited, the boat trip somehow just an extension of the fight, not yet over. I saw my hand on his throat underwater, the eyes come open. What I’d never had to do in the war, kill a man. I swung the boat away from a buoy that seemed to have come from nowhere. Pay attention. Think later. Now just get rid of it. This was far enough, somewhere between the city and the Lido. What if he washed up on the beach? Where they’d met.

I idled the engine, but it stalled, gave another cough, and then went quiet. Suddenly, without the throb of it, the silence around us had the quality of mist, opaque, opening up slightly for the faint bells on the buoys. There was just enough light from the marker to see her face, staring at the tarp, then looking at me.

“Adam, if we do this, the body, it’s a crime. We can’t explain-” She looked away, unsure how to finish.

“It is a crime. I killed him.”

She glanced back at me, her eyes suddenly fierce. “No, both. Both of us,” she said, her voice steady. And I thought of her that first afternoon, in the hotel near the station, opening a button.

I looked across at her for another minute, not saying anything, then nodded.

“Hold on to the sides. Keep the boat steady.”

She placed her hands on either side. I knelt forward, took up the front end of the tarp, and lifted it over the edge. It didn’t matter where you grabbed it. It was no longer a body, just something heavy wrapped in tarp, pushing the boat down with its weight. Claudia shifted to the other side, as if she could counterbalance the slide.

“It won’t tip,” I said. “Don’t worry.”

And then, before it could settle, I heaved up, lifting the back end with a grunt and swinging it around until its own weight was pulling it over and all I needed to do was push, then quickly right the boat as the tarp plunged into the lagoon. There was a splash, rocking the boat. For a few minutes we just sat looking over the side, as if the body would bounce back up again, but then the ripples died down and the water was smooth all the way to the buoy, just a gentle lap at the side of the boat. I looked around. No other boats. Claudia was still staring at the water.

“So,” she said.

I didn’t say anything, suddenly tired, as if the adrenaline were draining away, a kind of anemia.

“How long before we know-if it’s down?”

“It’s already down.”

“What do we say? We have to think what to say.”

“Nothing. We never saw him.”

“But they’ll ask. Where were we?”

I pulled the cord, grateful the motor started right away, not wanting to talk. I hadn’t thought beyond the body, getting rid of it. But of course we weren’t rid of it. People would ask, the police would be called, we would be part of it. You called him at the hospital. When did you see him last? Where were you? The body was only the beginning.

Now I did feel the cold, the wet air hitting my face in little stings, then harder ones as the mist turned to rain again. Almost as cold as Germany, the terrible sharp wind and people fighting over pieces of coal. You didn’t think about anything except staying warm. Not bodies, not what you were doing there, just getting in out of the cold. The black water streamed past the side of the boat, pelted with rain. We’d be coming up to San Giorgio soon.

I slowed the boat, unable to see more than a few yards ahead. Claudia hunched down under her coat, shivering, folding herself up against the rain. I followed the markers, still looking around for other boats. But who would be out now? No fishermen, no water taxis. Only someone who didn’t want to be seen, hidden by the emptiness of the lagoon.

I wiped my eyes, feeling the cold rain seeping down my neck, the shocked alertness of a cold shower, no longer caught up in a blood heat. What were we doing? A body wrapped in a tarp, dead, not an accident. I saw the tarp sinking, dragged down by stones, deliberately made to disappear. What explanation could there be now? Claudia was right-we had to think what to say. They’d look for him. He had a daughter. Doges in the family. Why would a man disappear? They’d hear about the engagement party. They’d talk to Claudia. And somehow it would come out. Somehow. Only people like Gianni got away with murder. I felt queasy again. But she hadn’t hesitated. Both of us. There was a sudden burst of rain in my face; it was really coming down now, sheets of it. Mimi’s party would be chaos.

The trip back was longer, and by the time we reached the Giudecca channel we were soaked through, my fingers frozen on the rudder. I killed the motor when we were almost at the Zattere, letting the boat bob for a minute, then rowing back under the footbridge to our canal. The sound of the rain now covered the plash of the oars. I didn’t have to let the boat drift. Claudia lifted the coat off her head and looked around.

“It’s okay. No one’s out,” I said.

“I won’t go back to that camp,” she said, as if she hadn’t heard me, another conversation.

“No.”

“Never. No matter what.”

“It’s not there anymore, Claudia,” I said quietly.

“That one. Another. Any of them.”

“Ssh,” I said. “No one’s going anywhere.” I put a finger to my lips, then pointed at the lighted window across the canal. I used the oar to swing around to our gate, catching the mooring pole and tying the boat before I helped Claudia out. She was shivering, her lips moving involuntarily. I helped her up the stairs, then closed the grilled door on the canal. She was standing near the pile of paving stones, staring at the tarp. I looked down to where the blood had been, just a streak of wet now.

“Come on, let’s get you dry,” I said, taking her arm.

She was still looking at the tarp. “What are we going to do?”

“A bath. You’re freezing.”

“No, I mean, what are we going to do?” She motioned toward the pile.

“I know what you mean. A bath. Then we’re going to go to Mimi’s.”

She looked up. “What?”

“I’ve been thinking-it’s the safest thing we can do. Hundreds of witnesses. When anyone asks, we were at Mimi’s.”

“Are you crazy?”

“We can do it. People will be late. Everything’ll be a mess in the rain. We go in the back. Then we’re in the ballroom, dancing. That’s all anyone will remember.”

“Dancing,” she said, shocked. “After we just-”

I took her arms. “I know what we just did. And now we’re going to Mimi’s.”

“I can’t.”

“We have to,” I said, still holding her. “Otherwise, where were we?”

“How can we go?” she said nervously. “Like this? What do we wear?”

“Borrow something of my mother’s.”

“I couldn’t.”

“Claudia,” I said, gripping her now. “There isn’t time. I’ll run the bath. We’ll pick something out. It’ll be all right. It has to be.”

“But my hair, it’s all wet,” she said, putting her hand up to feel it.

“Your hair.”

She stopped, hearing the absurdity of it.

“Everybody’ll be wet,” I said. “Come on. We have to hurry.”

She didn’t move.

“We can do it.” I looked toward the tarp. “We can’t let anyone know.”

“And we’re supposed to smile? After this?” She shook a little.

“Yes. As if nothing happened.” I took her shoulders again. “Because nothing happened.”

She looked at me, then nodded, still shaking.

“All right. Hot water. Come on. Leave the lights. I want to check later. If there’s any blood we missed.”

“Oh,” she said, stopping. She looked back toward the steps, her face slack.

“You all right?” I said softly.

She nodded. “It’s just-I forgot about the blood.”

CHAPTER EIGHT

There was only enough hot water for one bath, so we took turns. While I was drying off near the space heater, Claudia went through my mother’s closet, her head wrapped in a towel, her skin flushed from the warm soak.

“You’re young. That already puts you ahead. Wear anything.”

“To a party like this? It’s easy for you.”

“If it still fits,” I said, picking up my jacket from the bed. “I haven’t worn it in three years. That’s nice.”

She was holding up an evening gown with a scalloped neck, as creamy and soft as lingerie.

“It’s from before the war.”

“Here, let me help.”

She slid the dress over her head.

“It’s loose,” she said.

“This much?” I pinched in some fabric at the back. “We can pin it. You’ll look wonderful.”

“Oh, wonderful,” she said, flouncing out her damp hair. “Everyone will see it’s old.”

“They’ll still be looking at you. That’s all we want.”

“Look at all this. Powder, everything. How can she have so much?”

I left her at the mirror, patting her face, and went to dress, hurrying, even managing my tie in a few minutes. Then I headed downstairs to check the water entrance, running a flashlight along the edge of the tarp. There were a few dark splotches of dampness on the stone floor, possibly from our dripping clothes, but nothing that looked like blood. One more check tomorrow in the daylight. What else? The ashtray in the hall. Not even a trace. When I got back to my mother’s room, Claudia was still at the dressing table, putting her hair up.

“We have to hurry.”

“There’s nothing else I can do with it,” she said, ignoring me. “This way it doesn’t matter if it’s wet.”

I saw the white back of her neck, like a girl’s, then looked into the mirror as she blotted her lipstick. The room was warm now, close with the smell of perfume and powder.

“You look beautiful.”

She met my eyes in the mirror, then looked down, suddenly upset.

“I can’t do this. All the time thinking-” She stopped, then reached for another tissue and raised her head to look at me again. “Where are the pins?”

It needed only two, which I covered in the back with the sash. The shoes were more difficult-we had to stuff wadded tissue into the toes to make them fit.

“So,” Claudia said, standing in front of the mirror, smoothing the skirt. “It’s okay?”

“Almost.”

I went into my mother’s closet and pulled out the false panel in the glove drawer that hid her jewel case. You had to lift the top tray of rings out to get to the bigger pieces. I took out a necklace.

“I can’t wear-”

“She’s not wearing it,” I said, fastening it behind her neck. “She won’t mind.”

She fingered the stones, just gazing into the mirror for a minute.

“My god. Are they rubies?”

“I don’t know. Garnets, maybe. Anyway, they suit you. Your coloring. Ready?”

But she stood there, still looking, then made a wry grimace. “All my life I wanted to go to those parties. In one of the palazzos. With jewels. And now-like this.”

Mimi’s ground-floor layout was similar to ours; a long hall stretching from the Grand Canal to a calle, flanked by old offices and storerooms converted tonight into cloakrooms and little parlors. As I’d expected, there was a crush at the water entrance, a swarm of flashbulbs and dripping umbrellas and harried maids running back and forth. Most of the maids were new, borrowed from friends or hired for the evening, and none of them recognized me. We were just part of the crowd in evening dress streaming in from all directions, handing over wet coats, adjusting hair in powder rooms, stamping our shoes dry on the marble floor. In the confusion of arrival, with everyone talking at once and music coming from upstairs, no one noticed us. We might have come in at any time. I glanced up to see if Mimi was on the stairs, receiving, but she had evidently already joined the party. Better still.

At the top of the stairs was a landing, an anteroom before the main sala, a place to catch your breath and gather your skirt, and for a moment we stood there, dazzled. Mimi’s ballroom was one of the grandest in Venice, as large as the Rezzonico’s, and tonight every inch of it seemed alive with light. The center chandeliers were electric, but the walls were lined with sconces holding real candles, hundreds of them, backed by mirrors, so that the effect was watery, constantly in motion, the nighttime equivalent of sunlight reflected off the canal. At the end of the room the high windows tapered to gothic points, but the walls themselves were rococo, paneled Arcadian scenes framed in gilt, moldings of swirling plaster. Waiters passed trays of champagne. Women glanced at themselves in mirrors. After the dark lagoon, the bulky tarp splashing over the side of the boat, I felt we had stepped into another world-not this one, maybe the one the room had been meant for, not real even then.

“Adam, you did come.” Mimi after all, standing guard at the door. Her hair, swept up, was sprinkled with jewels, not a tiara but tiny diamond pins, bits of starlight. Could she see it on my face? Washed now, but still somehow streaked with his blood? I felt my hands shaking and dug my nails into the palms. We could do this, had to.

“Hours ago,” I said, nodding toward the crowd below.

“And you’ve brought Miss-”

“Grassini,” Claudia said.

“Yes, I remember. So glad,” she said, shaking hands, her eyes sweeping down to take in Claudia’s dress. She turned to me. “How nice you look. Out of uniform.” A raised eyebrow. “I thought you didn’t have evening clothes. Grace said you couldn’t find-”

“And then I did. I hope it’s all right.”

“Darling, don’t be silly. I’m desperate for young people. Half the men here seem to have canes. When did we all get to be such an age?” She paused. “You’re supposed to say, You didn’t.”

I lifted my head, focusing, digging my nails in again. “You didn’t.”

“Charm itself, isn’t he?” she said to Claudia. “And so quick. I don’t suppose you’ve brought Gianni.”

“No. Isn’t he here?” I said, not looking at Claudia.

“Not yet. I don’t know how Grace puts up with it. I wouldn’t. He’d be late to his own funeral.”

Claudia moved involuntarily, catching Mimi’s eye. “Well, a doctor,” she said.

“Yes, but at this hour. Oh dear,” she said, looking over my shoulder toward the stairs. “Count Grillo. I never thought-the stairs.” I turned to see a white-haired man making his way up slowly, gripping an attendant with one arm and the banister with the other. “Maybe I should have him carried. But so embarrassing. My god, when I think how he used to-”

“An old flame?”

“How he used to dance. Don’t be fresh. Go and be conspicuous. Maybe you can get the orchestra to liven things up a bit.” She turned to Claudia. “We’ll talk later. I’m so glad you came. You look lovely.” She moved over to the head of the stairs. “Ernesto, how marvelous. No, don’t hurry. Oodles of time.”

A waiter came by with champagne.

“They’re going to start wondering where he is,” Claudia said, looking at her glass. She shuddered suddenly, like someone caught in a draft.

“Cold?”

She shook her head. “I’m nervous. I don’t know why. Not before, not even in the boat. And now here, a place like this.”

“Have some champagne.”

“Oh, just like that. Champagne-as if nothing’s happened.”

“I want people to see us having a good time,” I said, spreading my hand, steady now, toward the ballroom. “He won’t be missed for hours. He’s a doctor. They’re like that. Things come up.” I put down my glass on a little table. “So let’s be conspicuous. Dance?”

She looked up at me, biting her lip. “It’s my fault, all this.”

I held up my arms, ready to dance.

“And now for you, this trouble. What if you had never met me?”

I took the champagne glass out of her hand. “Yes, what if?” I said, then put my arm behind her back and moved her into the room.

The orchestra, in formal cutaways, was playing “Why Do I Love You?” but slightly off-rhythm, as if they were sight-reading, more familiar with Strauss than a twenties show tune. Not that it mattered. The dancers were moving at their own pace, peering over shoulders, the music just an excuse to look around at one another. Everything gleamed-jewels, the huge mirrors, even the long parquet floor, polished probably for days. I thought of Byron’s famous party, when they threw gold plates into the canal.

“So you can dance too,” Claudia said.

“Miss Hill’s dancing class. We all had to go. The boys hated it.”

“And the girls?”

“They liked to get dressed up.”

She glanced around the room. “So nothing changes. Look at the clothes. Is it all right, the dress?”

“Perfect.”

“Ha, perfect. The poor relation.”

“Not too poor,” I said, putting a finger to the necklace. Off to the left I caught a quick flash of light, stronger than a candle.

“Jewels. If my father could see me-” She looked away, frowning. “Maybe it was for him, what happened. For him.”

But at that moment, my face suddenly warm, I knew it wasn’t. Not for him, not even for Claudia. I’d wanted to do it. I wasn’t in the cold boat anymore, unable to think. I’d wanted to do it. Even now I could feel the odd excitement of it, my arms shaking as I held his head under.

“What’s wrong?” Claudia said.

“Nothing. Just a little warm. Dance over there-I want them to take our picture.”

Another flash went off, and now the heat drained away from my face, as if my blood were running back and forth, like the tide in the lagoon.

“Adam? What are you doing here?” My mother was standing with a couple at the edge of the dance floor. I leaned over and kissed her cheek.

“I decided you were right, so we borrowed a dress. Your idea, remember?”

My mother was taking in Claudia, giving a surprised glance at the necklace. Then she smiled, extending her hand, not missing a beat. “Claudia, how nice.”

“I hope you don’t mind.”

My mother waved this away. “Wonderful what being twenty years younger can do for a dress. It’s perfect on you.” And I saw in her smile that she thought some other bargain had been struck, an end to the trouble, our coming a promise of smoother days ahead, more precious than rubies. Her face beamed with a kind of warm relief. “Oh, but let me introduce Inspector Cavallini. Signora Cavallini.”

“Inspector?” Claudia started, not expecting this, but the Cavallinis, half turned to the dance floor, missed the flicker in her eyes.

“Signorina Grassini, isn’t it?” my mother went on. “I’ve become so bad at names. And my son of course you know. I think you met at Harry’s.”

There were the usual nods and handshakes, something to fall back on while I collected myself.

“Yes, I remember,” I said quickly, a signal to Claudia. “I hope you’re not on duty tonight.”

“Only as an escort,” he said, smiling. “It’s my wife who brings me.” Signora Cavallini nodded, accepting this. She had the grave, long face of someone invited for her family connections.

“Well, if Gianni doesn’t get here soon you will be,” my mother said. “I’ll have to send you out to find him.”

“Ah, if every woman did that when the man is late, the police would never sleep.”

“Adam, you did call him.”

“Yes. At the hospital. I told him to meet you here. He’s probably around somewhere. It’s a mess downstairs. We were here for ages before we found you.”

Claudia looked away.

“No, it’s not like him. Well, it is like him, but not this much, if you see what I mean.”

“Excuse me, would you turn this way, please?”

The photographer stepped back onto the dance floor, motioning with his head for us to stand closer. A flash went off and there we were, evidence, Claudia and I standing next to the police. For one wild moment I wanted to laugh, caught by the unexpectedness of luck.

“Perhaps you would not worry so much if you were dancing,” Cavallini said. “May I?”

After a nod to Signora Cavallini, he led my mother out to the floor, leaving us to make small talk with his wife. It was a pity about the rain, but the ball was lovely, the way Venice used to be. So much food. Of course, it was easier for foreigners. When even this ran out, I looked at my mother, chatting happily while she danced, and I felt queasy again.

Signora Cavallini, whose English was poor, must have been as bored as we were, because she led her husband away before he could ask for another dance. They drifted into the next room, where supper would be served later, picking up glasses of champagne along the way.

“My god, what a country. Even the policemen go to balls. Imagine at home,” my mother said.

“How does Mimi know him?”

“His wife, I think. Of course, with Mimi you never know. She casts a pretty wide net. Look at them all,” she said, waving to the room. “And she was so worried. ‘They won’t come out in the rain.’ Well, they’d come out in a monsoon. You’ll never guess who’s here. Celia de Betancourt. I thought, the war really must be over if she’s back. Venezuela all this time. Imagine the boredom of it.”

“Who?”

“Darling, you remember. You were fascinated by her when you were little. On the beach. She would just tan and tan.”

I made a helpless gesture.

“Well, anyway, she’s here. Still brown as a berry too. Of course it’s sunny there, I suppose. That’s her, over with Mimi. Remember?”

I looked across the floor at a woman in a strapless taffeta gown, her dark neck entirely covered in diamonds.

“That’s some necklace.”

“The jewels are past belief. I think even Mimi was stunned. They said the war would put an end to all this, and just look.”

“I hope it’s all right,” Claudia said, touching hers. “About the necklace.”

My mother said nothing for a minute, her face soft and pleased, then put her hand on Claudia’s. “It’s lovely, isn’t it? Adam’s father gave it to me. Awful to think of it just sitting in a box somewhere. It’s nice to give it some air.”

“Like a pet,” I said.

“You know what I mean. What’s the point of having them if you don’t wear them? Anyway,” she said to Claudia, “I’m glad you did.” She turned to me, her eyes moist. “You look so like your father in those clothes. So like. He loved to dress up, you know. Parties.”

While you were-where? I thought, then felt dismayed for thinking it.

“So handsome. Well,” she said, and then, making a connection known only to herself, “You know, it’s not like him, not really. I’m worried. It’s all very well that policeman pooh-poohing, saying men are late, but he wouldn’t be late for this. What did he say to you?”

“Just that he’d see you here. It’s not that late,” I said, glancing at my watch. “He’ll be here.” Suddenly I wanted a cigarette, anything to steady the jumping in my stomach.

“But I called his house. He left hours ago.”

“Maybe he stopped for a drink somewhere.”

“A drink. And then fell into a canal, I suppose,” my mother said, dismissive. “Tonight of all nights.”

“The inspector didn’t seem to think-”

“Oh, I know what he thinks. Some woman. Why else would a man be late? A little stop along the way. I wouldn’t put it past him — he practically winks at you when he talks. But that’s not Gianni.” She put her hand on Claudia’s again. “I hope Adam explained things. What he’s like. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, you know. He wouldn’t know how.”

Claudia moved her hand, looking away.

“Anyway, you’ve come to dance, and I’m just fussing and ruining things. Off you go. I’ll wait here like Penelope with my weaving.” She made a shooing motion with her hands toward the dance floor.

The orchestra had switched to a piece of generic ball music, lilting and sweet without being recognizable as anything in particular, something to talk under as we danced. People were passing back and forth between the ballroom and the food tables next door, balancing little plates of hors d’oeuvres.

“What are you going to say to her?” Claudia said when we’d moved away from the edge.

“Nothing.”

“But if they never find him-think how it will be for her. Never to know.”

“If they never find him, we’ll be safe. She’ll be-”

What? All right? Frantic? Waiting for some word, the phone to ring. How long before a disappearance becomes painless, just a mystery? I looked at Claudia.

“We can’t say anything. You know that, don’t you? We can’t.”

She nodded.

“I’ll get her to go away somewhere. Maybe Mimi-”

“She won’t leave now. She’ll look for him.”

“She can’t look forever. It’ll pass,” I said weakly, not even convincing myself.

We stared at each other for a moment, not talking, just moving our feet in aimless circles to the music, then her eyes grew shiny and she turned her face away.

“Oh,” she said, a moan, cut off, turned suddenly into a kind of nervous giggle that caught in her throat. She pitched her head forward onto my shoulder to stifle it, steady an unexpected shaking.

“We have to get through this,” I said. “Then we’ll be all right.”

“Can’t we leave now? Everybody’s seen us.”

“If they find the body, they’ll try to fix a time of death. People have to think we were here all night.”

“How would they find it? You said he’d go to the bottom. In the lagoon.”

“If they find it.”

“Oh, god. And then what?”

“Then we were here all night. Having a good time.”

I pulled her hand to me, bending my head to kiss it, then saw my own fingers and froze. There were little rims of rust under the nails. No, blood. When I’d clenched my hands earlier, had I dug them in so deep? I opened my hand. No marks on the palms. His blood. Where anybody might see it if he looked closely enough. Cavallini hadn’t noticed, shaking hands, but what if we met again? I might be lighting a cigarette, bringing my fingers up, the rims suddenly visible, unavoidable. The smallest thing could give you away.

I turned Claudia’s hand over, spreading it. “Let me see. No, you’re all right.”

“What?” she said, startled, clutching her hand.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, letting my arms fall. “Have some champagne. Right back.” Turning away, not even waiting to see her expression, explain anything. Time enough later.

The nearest men’s room was on the other side of the stair landing, unmarked but guarded by a footman placed there to direct ladies down the hall. Inside, another servant was acting as washroom attendant, turning taps and handing out towels. Count Grillo stood in front of the toilet bowl, still supported on one arm, his pee a trickle that barely made a sound as it hit the water. I dug my fingernails in again, waiting.

When he finished, flushing and then slowly buttoning up, I stepped forward to take his place, but nothing came out. I was too anxious now even to pee. But I had to-otherwise why had I come? And then the attendant turned on the tap, the sound of gushing water like a cue, and it was all right. I slumped a little, my breath spilling out too.

Count Grillo took forever to dry but finally shuffled away. I rubbed my hands around the bar of soap, lathering them, keeping my back to the attendant. My knuckles were raw, not broken but scraped-what happened to hands in a fight. I ran one nail under the others and dug at the dried blood. More soap. When I rinsed, there was just enough blood to stain the water, a thin pale stream. I stood for a minute staring at it, light rust, like something that might have come out of an old water pipe. There all along. Shaking hands with Cavallini, with scraped knuckles and blood under my fingernails. But he hadn’t seen, hadn’t thought to look. And now it was too late, the red running into the soapy water, then out some ancient drain to the lagoon. Safe.

“ Prego.” The attendant had leaned forward, holding out a hand towel, the word loud in my ear. Had he been close enough to see? It didn’t have to be Cavallini. Anybody. Just one glance at the basin, the eye drawn to the unexpected stain.

“ Momento,” I said quickly, turning my shoulder to block his line of sight. What if any of it had stuck to the porcelain? But I couldn’t wash the bowl, not with him standing there. I lathered once more, then rinsed, holding my hands out for the towel but keeping the water running, a last chance to let it wash away. The attendant reached over and turned off the tap. Not looking at the water, busy now with the towel, taking it from me and putting it in the hamper. Involuntarily I looked down at my hands. Pink from all the soap and water, but no more rims, no evidence. When I looked up, I found the attendant staring at me, his eyes a question mark. I dropped my hands, folding the rough knuckles out of sight. He kept staring and for a minute, feeling chilled, I thought he had seen, was trying to decide what to do, but then he held up a clothes brush and I saw that he was just waiting for me to turn around so that he could dust me off, make the rest of me as clean as my hands.

An hour later we called Gianni’s house again, this time using Claudia to speak Italian.

“ Non in casa,” my mother said, “that’s all I can get out of them. Well, I know he’s not at home.”

Claudia took the phone and spoke rapidly for a few minutes, but learned nothing more. He’d left the house on foot before eight. Dressed for the party. Did he say he was going anywhere first? No, he said he had to hurry, he was a little late.

The hospital knew even less. He’d left at the usual time. For home? Yes. And he hadn’t been back? No, he was going to a big party.

My mother now fidgeted, genuinely worried, as if Claudia’s Italian should have produced different answers.

“But it’s ridiculous,” she said.

“No one just vanishes.” “No,” Claudia said. “So he must have a reason.”

I looked at her, expecting to see her eyes dart away, but she met mine evenly, no longer skittish, her balance restored somehow by having to lie to my mother. Or maybe the lies were becoming real to us, what had really happened.

“Maybe he did fall into a canal,” my mother said. “You think I’m joking. Bertie says it happened all the time during the war, in the blackout. Several people died. Funny, isn’t it? The only war casualties. No bombs. Just people falling into canals.”

“Where is Bertie, anyway?”

“He always comes late. Always. He doesn’t dance, you know. He just turns up for supper and a good look around.”

“Maybe that’s it. Maybe he’s coming with Bertie.”

“Gianni? Why would he do that? They’re not chums, really. No, something’s wrong. I know it. Seriously, what should I do?”

“I don’t know. Where else would he be? With friends?”

“Darling, instead of me? Something’s happened.”

“Maybe you should talk to Inspector Cavallini,” Claudia said.

I looked at her, but she ignored me, concentrating on my mother.

“Yes, but what do I say? I don’t want to ruin Mimi’s party.”

“Ask him to call the Questura. If there has been an accident. Somebody in the canal. Anything like that.”

My mother hesitated, frowning. “They’d report that, wouldn’t they?” She nodded, thinking to herself, and turned away, touching my arm absentmindedly as she left.

“You’re sending her to the police?” I said, watching my mother head into the other room.

Claudia shrugged. “He won’t do anything. But maybe he’ll remember. That we went to him before anything was wrong.”

Inspector Cavallini, indulging my mother, made the call to the Questura. Nothing had been reported, no accident, no body stumbled over in a dark calle. He asked someone to check the hospitals for anyone brought in with a heart attack, a stroke, anything sudden, but Venice had been quiet, huddled in out of the rain.

“You know, she’ll make it worse,” he said, drawing me aside, his voice confiding, man-of-the-world. “A man stops somewhere, sometimes it’s difficult getting back. Maestre, perhaps, somewhere on the mainland-many go there. And then a delay, the train is late. So, the arguments. Often this happens. A part of life.”

“He wouldn’t go to Maestre in white tie.”

“He was in white tie?” Cavallini said, looking at me.

“I suppose so,” I said quickly. “They said at the house he was dressed for the party. I just assumed-anyway, too dressed for Maestre.”

“Somewhere in Venice, then. A visit. It’s usually the case.”

“Or someone sick. A medical emergency.”

“Perhaps,” he said, dubious. “But then he would call, yes?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s sick himself.”

“Then someone will find him. Meanwhile, make your mother easy. Maybe sick, yes, but maybe delayed, a simple matter. Ah, Signora Miller,” he said as my mother came up. “Nothing has been reported. So I think it’s a matter for the patience.”

“But they’ll call you here if anything-”

“Yes, I asked them to do that. Don’t upset yourself. I think next you’ll hear the apologies.”

“Thank you,” my mother said, still frowning, concerned.

Then Mimi was with us.

“Grace, I’ve been looking-is anything wrong?”

“No, no,” my mother said, brightening.

“Don’t tell me he still hasn’t shown. It’s Maggie and Jiggs. You need a rolling pin. They’re all stinkers, aren’t they? Have you had supper?” she said to the rest of us. “There’s lovely food. I’m going to borrow Grace for a minute.” She took my mother’s arm. “Come on. Ernesto’s in a pout, and you always know what to say to him.”

She was moved off, a boat in tow, and we were alone with Cavallini again.

“Thank you for doing all this. I’m sorry-at a party.”

He shrugged. “These things happen. She’ll be angry, yes? When he comes.”

“Yes.”

He gave a sly smile. “Yes. Another night would have been better.” An old hand at slipping out. I wondered if he kept a girl in Maestre, in a small flat near the factories, for visits.

“Dance?” I said to Claudia, eager to get away.

The orchestra, looser and more confident, finally upbeat, was playing Cole Porter. It was the music everybody had wanted, what they’d flirted to on the Lido, and the floor was crowded. Soon the older guests would begin to drift away or settle themselves with plates of food, but just now the whole room seemed to be dancing, moving back and forth in flickers, like the candles. The stairs were empty. Everyone who was coming had already arrived. How long before even Cavallini became alarmed? He was watching from the edge of the floor, a knowing smile still on his face. Knowing nothing. And I realized then that no one knew, not anyone in the bright, crowded room, and the secret carried with it a kind of perverse pleasure. No one knew. We were a couple dancing to “Night and Day,” that was all-something for Cavallini to gossip about later with his wellborn wife.

“Not too much longer,” I said.

“All right,” Claudia said, preoccupied. She moved with the music for a few more minutes, then said, “What will she do?”

“She’ll go back to Ca’ Venti. She won’t stay here. Not with Mimi. But we don’t have to wait. We should do what we would normally do.”

“Can we eat something first? It’s terrible, I know, but I’m so hungry.”

Food had been available all night, passed on trays and anchoring long tables in the next room, but now a new buffet had been set up, a lavish late supper, hot in silver chafing dishes, with waiters to carry your plates to a table. There were glass bowls of caviar and carving trolleys of roast veal, fruit arranged in pyramids. It was, in its way, more opulent than the ball itself, as if rationing had never existed, imaginary. Even in Venice, which had had an easy war, it was disturbing to see so much food.

“You go,” I said to Claudia. “I want a smoke first.”

I went over to the balcony windows facing the canal, lit a cigarette, and almost at once became nauseated, the queasiness I’d felt all evening suddenly lurching in my stomach. It might have been the close room, the sight of the rich food, the smoke on an empty stomach, but I knew it wasn’t, just what was left of the nervous energy that had started when I’d pushed him against the wall. Everything up and down, the freezing rain in the lagoon, then a ballroom hot enough for bare-shouldered gowns; pushing his head down in the water, my fingers still streaked with blood, everything in me pumping, willing me to do it, then polite evasions, the puzzled, hurt look on my mother’s face. I opened one of the windows and gulped in some air. It was surprisingly cold, like the air in the lagoon, stinging on my warm face. Below, a vaporetto heading to Salute was passing Mimi’s water entrance, still busy with lights and boats tied to the striped poles, gondoliers waiting on the dock with cigarettes cupped in their hands. A murder had been committed, and no one knew. I took another breath, then drew on the cigarette again, steadying myself. He was gone. This is what it felt like-not remorse but a grim satisfaction, and this tension in the stomach. No going back. A constant tremor on the surface of your skin, alert, because all that mattered now was not getting caught.

Getting caught. My stomach lurched again and I found my shoulders shaking, my body heaving, not bringing anything up, just gasping for air. He wasn’t going to come late. I’d choked the life out of him, the last breath. How could it not be in my face, a red stain? My shoulders moved again. Somebody would see. I’d give everything away, out of control.

“Adam, whatever is the matter?” Bertie said to my back. “Are you all right?”

I tossed the cigarette and gripped the window frame, willing my shoulders to be still. Nothing escaped Bertie. I nodded, keeping my back to him.

“I just felt funny for a minute. Some air.” I drew some in, making a point.

“Funny?”

I looked down again at the men on the dock. The rain had let up. You could hear the music coming from the ballroom. It might be hours before anyone asked for his boat. One of the gondoliers passed a bottle, something to hold off the damp. No one knew.

I took another breath and forced my mouth into a smile so that it was in place when I turned. “Too much wine, probably.” Taking out a handkerchief to wipe my forehead, avoiding his eyes.

“Hm,” Bertie said, still staring. “You sure?” But when I nodded, he let it go. “Is that where you’ve been hiding, at the bar?”

“No, in plain sight,” I said, then stopped, disconcerted by his white shirtfront, almost a duplicate of Gianni’s. I smiled again. “Dancing.”

“By yourself.”

“No, Claudia’s here.”

“Ah,” he said flatly. “I thought you weren’t coming.”

“And miss this?”

“I’ll have one of those,” he said, glancing back at the room while I got out another cigarette. “No, you wouldn’t want to miss this. Mimi’s had her ball, hasn’t she? I don’t suppose people will talk about anything else for months. Extravagant, my god. Even for Mimi. Celia de Betancourt’s here, did you see? She can’t get over it. And you know there’s no one richer than a South American. Forty of them own everything or something.”

“They’re lining up at the trough,” I said, gesturing to the food tables. Claudia seemed to have been swallowed up in a swarm of gowns. An old man with medals on his chest, an operetta figure, was pointing to chafing dishes as a waiter filled his plate.

“Well, the food,” Bertie said. “I don’t want to think where she got it all. Flown in, someone said. But it can’t be legal, not all this. Rosaries for days, that’s what it would cost me.”

“The Church doesn’t seem to mind,” I said, pointing with my cigarette to a heavyset priest filling his plate.

“Ah, Luca,” he said. “Well, the Church takes the world as it finds it.”

“I’ll say,” I said, watching him spoon cream sauce over his plate, then looked away, still not sure of my stomach.

“It’s only the next, you know, that concerns them. Poor Luca. It’s a weakness, all that hunger.”

“Maybe he should see real hunger. The kind in this world.”

“Adam, if you’re going to start, I’m leaving. Here, of all places? You can’t be serious. In your nice formal clothes. Eating Mimi’s caviar. Oh dear,” he said, catching a glimpse of the priest wolfing down a bulging mouthful, a comically greedy moment.

I made a sound, trying to laugh. “Who is he? One of your monsignors?”

“No, no, just a father now. A Maglione before.”

I turned. “A relative?”

“A cousin, I think. It’s impossible to keep track here. They branch and branch. Just assume everyone’s family and you’re safe. Why, do you want to meet him?”

“No, I was just curious. A priest in the family-”

“Ah, of course. And now yours. I hadn’t thought of that. I knew we’d get you a priest somehow. Well, if he is a cousin. Let’s ask Gianni.”

I shook my head. “He’s not here.”

“What do you mean?” he said, looking up sharply.

“He’s late.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s nearly midnight. He’s not late.”

“Well, he hasn’t turned up. We asked the police to check-you know, if any accidents had been reported.”

“We who? Grace?”

I nodded. “She talked to Cavallini. He’s here.”

“Yes, the wife,” Bertie said, an absentminded response, dotting i ’s.

“He seems to think Gianni stopped off somewhere on the way. Got delayed somehow.”

“Stopped off? Where?”

“To see somebody. A lady friend. An old Venetian custom, according to Cavallini.”

Bertie stared at me. “Are you out of your mind? Do you think Gianni-”

“I don’t know, Bertie. But he’s not here.”

“Something’s wrong,” Bertie said, serious.

“Cavallini called the Questura. They checked the hospitals. Nothing.”

“And Grace is-?”

“Putting a good face on it. She doesn’t want to ruin Mimi’s party.”

“Oh, these ladies. And he’s probably lying in an alley somewhere.”

“Bertie, for god’s sake.”

“ Sick. Of course it would never occur to you. At my age, it’s the first thing you think of. Happen any time-just walking down the street. You feel a little queer and-” He gave a small shudder to finish the thought. “Well, you’d better get your mother home. She won’t keep putting a good face on it.”

“But we don’t know there’s anything wrong,” I said, hearing myself, genuine.

“Of course there’s something wrong.” He puffed on his cigarette, thinking. “Has there been any trouble between them?”

“Between who?”

“Gianni and your mother,” he said, stressing each word. “Don’t be dense.”

“I don’t think so,” I said, thrown by this, an unexpected idea.

“Well, it has happened before, you know. Cold feet at the altar. Still, not at the biggest party of the year. He simply wouldn’t. Ah, Luca.”

The heavy priest had lumbered over. There were introductions, the Maglione connection established, but I scarcely paid attention, jittery again, wondering if Bertie would notice. Then two more minutes of aimless chatter. “But where is Gianni?” Father Luca said, finally out of conversation. “I’ve been looking for him.”

“He was called to the hospital,” Bertie said quickly. “A shame, really. To miss a party like this.”

“Yes, very splendid. Such food. Not since the war.” Just the thought of it seemed to send him back to the table. “You’ll excuse me? I think a little coffee before I go.”

“Why did you say that?” I said to Bertie.

“What do you want people to say? If they start wondering, they won’t talk about anything else, and Mimi’ll never forgive her. Have some sense. Even so, you ought to take her home.”

“You act as if it’s some kind of scandal.”

“Not yet.”

“Anyway, I can’t. I’ve got to get Claudia home.”

He had another puff, brooding. “Lovely for her, at least.”

“What do you mean?”

“That he’s gone missing. Not exactly her favorite, was he?” He studied me. “You weren’t best fond, either.”

“Missing. You talk about him as if he were dead,” I said evenly. “He’s not dead.” My voice steady, not a waver.

“All right, all right, never mind. Here she comes.” He nodded toward Claudia, carrying a plate. “Looking pretty, I must say.” He peered at me over the tops of his glasses. “Calmer, I hope.”

“That’s all over.”

“Really,” he said, neutral. “And with everyone waiting for a rematch.” He was already reaching out for her free hand. “Claudia. So pretty.”

“Signor Howard,” she said, tentative, not trusting the smile. “You’ve just come?”

“Late, yes, I know. Mimi’s already scolded me. But I’m not the only one, I gather.”

“No,” Claudia said, looking directly at him. “How is it at the Accademia?”

Bertie ignored this, staring frankly at the necklace, not even pretending to hide his curiosity. “It’s wonderful. Wherever did you get that?” he said.

Claudia touched it. “Adam’s mother gave it to me.” She caught his raised eyebrow. “For the evening.”

“And rubies, no less. You can always tell.”

“Yes, it’s beautiful. It was so kind.”

“Well, it’s all in the family, isn’t it?” Bertie said, putting out his cigarette in an ashtray. He looked at me. “I’m glad to see everyone’s getting along so well. I’d better see what I can do about Grace. You two enjoy yourselves. I’ll get her home.” He lifted his hand in a little wave as he left.

“He thinks something’s wrong,” I said.

Claudia looked up from her plate, heaped with food. “What did he say?”

“Nothing. Don’t worry, he doesn’t know anything. Just that something’s wrong.”

“Oh,” she said, putting the plate on the table.

“Not hungry?”

She shook her head.

“Eat something. You can’t put down a full plate. People will notice.”

She shook her head again and I picked up the plate and forked some veal.

“Why would he think that?”

“Why not? Something is wrong. He just doesn’t know what.” I was eating quickly now, almost gulping the food down, no longer nauseated, surprised to find that I was hungry.

“Did you see the way he looked at me? Someone from the back rooms. Not someone who wears necklaces.”

“He’s just jealous.”

“How can you laugh?”

“I don’t know.” I put the plate down. “I don’t know how I’m doing any of it.”

But suddenly it was easier. I felt another surge, warm and full of food, a primitive well-being, filling up with life again after hours of empty dread.

“All right, one more dance to show you off, then we’ll go.”

“Yes?” she said eagerly.

“If he’s not here by now, whatever happened must have already happened. While we were here.”

She looked at me, unsure, but followed me back to the ballroom. Bertie, near the door with my mother, was leaning over to talk quietly, presumably arranging to go. The floor had thinned out but was still lively.

“You know what he was thinking?” Claudia said, looking at Bertie. “ ‘What is she doing here? That type. Ha. Looking for a rich American.’ ”

“And you found one,” I said, smiling. That was safe now too, something I hadn’t thought about before, my mother protected. I glanced toward the door. She and Bertie were talking to Mimi, heading for the stairs. “That’s better,” I said. “You want them to see you smile.”

She looked away, then danced closer, putting her head next to mine, trembling again. “What kind of people are we? To smile now.”

“Don’t.”

“Now I’ve done everything. I thought before it was everything, but now there’s this too.”

I pulled back to face her. “Think what he was,” I said.

She didn’t say anything.

I had said one dance, but then it became two, another. My mother had disappeared, and with her any talk about Gianni. We drifted with the music. I could feel the heat of her through her dress. Maybe this is what happens after, I thought, every sense stronger than before, as if we’d taken some extra portion from the dead. Food, touch, just being alive. In Germany, after combat, the troops were ravenous. Rapes happened then. Relieved not to be dead, proving something.

Around us, the beautiful room spun by in slow circles. Claudia had put a hand behind my neck, pulling us close, so that everything smelled of her. We were no longer pretending, with one eye to the others.

When we left, the crush for coats and umbrellas had begun, so that we were lost again in the crowd. No one noticed us leave, no one looked at the time.

We avoided the boats and walked back through San Ivo, the way Gianni would have come earlier. The calles were nearly empty, just the occasional umbrella bumping into ours in the narrow passages. Claudia was quiet, leaning against me. When we reached San Polo, she stopped under an arch near the hotel.

“Here,” she said, reaching behind and unclasping the necklace. “Take it.”

“You don’t-”

“No, it’s hers. What if something happens? If I lose it.”

“If you lose it,” I said dubiously.

She held it in her hand, looking down at it. “So. No more Cinderella.”

“There’s no rush.”

She pushed the necklace into my hand. “Listen to me. We can’t do this. I knew when he looked at me, Signor Howard. Tomorrow everybody asks questions. The ball, that’s finished now. And who do they question? How do I explain all those things? That night, everybody saw me with him. My job, all those things. Where is he? And who’s the one to suspect? Me. The easy one. Who else? Even if they don’t find him.”

“Without a body they can’t-”

“What’s the difference? It’s still me. And then you.”

“Stop it,” I said, grabbing her. “Don’t talk like that. No one is going to suspect anything.”

Her eyes were darting. I put my hand to the side of her face, as if I could stop her thoughts by touching it.

“They’ll come for me.”

“They’re not going to come for you.”

“Yes, they will. They’ll come.” Her eyes were wide, staring at me.

“No. They can’t. They can never get you.”

“Yes.”

I put a finger to her lips. “Never. Don’t you see? You were with me.” I moved the finger slowly along her lip, then rested it on her cheek. “I’ll be your alibi.”

She started to shake her head, turning it into my hand, but I held my finger there so that her eyes couldn’t move away.

“And you’ll be mine,” I said. “We’ll be safe.”

She stared at me for a minute more, then lowered her head.

“They’ll come,” she said, barely audible.

I brushed my hand down her cheek. “No,” I said, as quiet as she had been. “No,” I said again, a murmur, then suddenly a door slammed, someone leaving the hotel, and she jumped, startled, and reached for me.

“Oh.” A muffled sound, no louder than the water dripping in the passage. She pulled me close to her, turning her face away from the light, holding on to my coat until we heard the footsteps grow fainter in the campo, heading off toward the Rialto.

“It’s no one,” I said, my mouth close to her ear, but she was holding me even tighter, her arms around me, then one hand behind my neck, bending me toward her, kissing my face in a kind of rush, tasting it.

“Oh, I don’t care,” she said, still kissing me, as if the slam of the door had been a shot and she were running away from the evening, from whatever was going to happen. “I don’t care.” Clutching me to her. I felt her breath and then my mouth was open too, moving down to her neck, excited, both of us panting, the promise at the end of the evening, everything finally letting go, feeling the flush in my face again.

“We can’t,” I said, my face in her hair.

“Stay with me,” she said, moving her neck so I could kiss it again.

“I have to know what’s going on there tonight.”

“No, stay,” she said, kissing me. “What we would do. That’s what you said.” She pulled me closer until I knew she could feel me against her, already hard. “A party. And then you didn’t come up?” Moving now, pressing into me.

“Is that what we would do?” I said, kissing her again.

“Yes,” she said, her hands on me, holding me. “Don’t you want to?”

All evening, every sense working up to it. Spurting blood. The bundled tarp splashing into the dark water. My mother’s dressing room, warm with powder. The white skin at the back of her neck.

“The hotel clerk will say we were together,” she said.

“Claudia-”

“I know, I know. How can we do this? After. And I still want to. I want to,” she said, her breath on my face again.

“I can’t stay all night,” I said, my voice sliding away, skidding. “I have to get back. We have to be careful.”

“Yes, careful. A little while then.” She pressed her face against my coat. “Before they come.”

“Nobody’s going to come.”

My mother was still up when I got back, coiled in a chair near the space heater, a full ashtray on her lap.

“You’re a sight,” she said, raising her eyebrows, as if she could see through the rumpled jacket, the loose collar, to the rest of me, still sticky.

I stood in the doorway to the sitting room, surprised to see Inspector Cavallini on the couch. At this hour his presence was beyond the call of any duty. Was he waiting for me, the body already found, questions raised?

“I thought someone should be here,” he said, answering whatever he saw in my face. “So Signora Miller would not be alone.” Courtly to women, a man who visited Maestre. A brandy snifter was on the table near the couch.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” I said. “Any news?”

“Nothing,” my mother said. “Something terrible’s happened.”

“Signora, we don’t know that,” he said gently.

“Of course it has. What else could it be? What’s awful is not to know.”

Cavallini looked at me with an open palm of resignation. “I’ve sent a man to Dr. Maglione’s house. He will call if-”

“He comes home? He won’t. Something’s happened,” my mother said.

“No word at the hospitals? Anywhere?”

“No. So a great mystery. But, let us hope, with a simple explanation. The best thing now would be to sleep,” he said, turning to my mother.

“Sleep,” she said. Her face was pale but not splotched with tears, just in retreat, her eyes distant, the way they had been after my father died, days of it, not crying, away by herself. “I don’t see what we’re waiting for. Why can’t you trace his movements? He left the house, we know that. For Mimi’s. Unless he forgot and came here.”

“No, I was here. Until we went to Mimi’s.”

“But darling, I called. There was no one here.”

Inspector Cavallini looked up from his brandy.

“Oh, that was you?” I said quickly. “Somebody called, but I didn’t answer.”

“Darling, you might have picked up. It rang and rang. I mean, even in the shower-”

“I was busy,” I said, my voice a little clipped, nervous.

But Inspector Cavallini took it for embarrassment, his eyes amused over the glass.

“Busy?” my mother said.

“Signorina Grassini was here as well, perhaps?” Cavallini said.

“Yes.”

“Well, I still don’t-oh, darling.” She stopped, flustered. “Really.”

“Getting ready for the ball,” Cavallini said, having fun with it.

“Yes. Anyway, he didn’t come here.”

“Well, he must have gone somewhere,” my mother said. “Somebody must have seen him. You have to ask.”

“Signora, at three in the morning who should I ask?” Cavallini said. “You understand, my hands are tied in this. What is there to investigate? We tell everyone to listen for the accidents, a sickness, but that’s all we can do. It is not a crime to miss a party. Even such a party.”

“What do I do?” my mother said. “Officially. Do I fill out a form?”

“Not tonight,” Cavallini said, putting his empty brandy glass on the table. “Tomorrow I will make more inquiries. So we see. And you, signora, please, some rest. If I need you to help me.”

“Help? How?”

“You are his fiancee, yes? So who knows him better?”

“Yes,” my mother said vaguely.

“Till tomorrow, then,” he said, taking my mother’s hand. “Make yourself easy.”

“Thank you. I’ve kept you so late.”

He made a small “it’s nothing” gesture.

“I’ll see you out,” I said, leading him to the stairs.

“You have some pills for her? To sleep? Tomorrow will not be pleasant.”

“What do you mean?” I said. We were walking down the stairs, then through the hallway where Gianni and I had fought. Without thinking, I glanced up at one of the sconces, as if it might be dripping blood, but everything was in shadow, kept dim by night-lights.

“She’s right. A man like that-why would he run away? He wouldn’t. So why is he missing?” He left it open, a question that answered itself.

“Let’s hope not,” I said, opening the door for him, reaching up to the old handle, then quickly dropping my hand, moving the raw knuckles behind me.

“Yes, we can hope. Meanwhile, some sleep, I think. You too.” He turned in the doorway. “The maid? She doesn’t answer the phone?”

My hand went farther back, as if it were moving on its own.

“Yes. Oh, you mean tonight. They all went to Mimi’s to help.”

“So you were alone in the house.”

“Well, not alone.”

“I meant you and Signorina Grassini.”

“Yes, why?”

“I’m sorry to ask before, in front of your mother. I know how it is. An opportunity, yes? How do you say, the mice play when the cat’s away?”

“Yes.”

He shook his head, amused, then patted my arm. “To be such an age.”

I leaned against the door after I’d locked it, looking down the hall, my forehead sweaty. One slip was all it took. I needed to go through everything tomorrow with Claudia. Exact times. When she had left her hotel, how long it had taken to get here. The rest was safe, playing while the cat was away.

“You don’t have to wait up,” my mother said.

“He’s right, you know. There’s nothing we can do tonight. You should get some sleep.”

“I know. I just want to sit for a bit.” She was picking at her gown, the black velvet skirt now flecked with ash. “I’m frightened.”

“I know.”

“He could be hurt. Dead.”

“Yes.”

She looked up. “Well, that’s a change anyway. Cavallini-the man’s impossible. Every time I say something, he just tut-tuts and pours another brandy.”

“I said could be.”

“And now I’m supposed to help. How? I don’t know where Gianni goes, what he does. It’s funny, isn’t it? You know somebody, and then something like this happens and you don’t. I mean, I know him, who he is, but the details-” Her voice trailed off.

I reached into my pocket, pulling out the necklace, and handed it to her.

“Here. Before it gets lost.”

“Yes,” she said, looking at it. “You know, I never thought. What a night for a robbery. Everyone at Mimi’s. No one home. Perfect, wouldn’t it be?” She paused, her eyes still on the necklace. “You’re serious about this girl?”

“Yes.”

She sighed. “Not the best time to talk, is it? I can’t think about anything.”

“I know.”

“Of course, it doesn’t matter what I say, really.” She reached out her hand to cover mine. “You know that I’m always-”

I leaned over and kissed her forehead. “It can wait. Get some sleep, huh?”

“But, Adam, if it’s-I don’t know what I’ll do.”

“You’ll be fine. You’re always fine.”

“I’m not always fine, you know,” she said, looking down at her lap. “Not always.”

I stood there for a minute, uneasy, not knowing what to say. Then she patted my hand. “Well, look at the time. Off to bed.”

“Do you want a pill?”

“No, I don’t want to miss anything,” she said, without irony.

“All right,” I said, flustered. “I’m going to have a bath.”

“Darling, you’ll wake the maids.”

“A short bath.” I leaned over to kiss her forehead again. “Don’t sit up too long.” As I left, I lifted my head toward her. “That’s some dress.”

A faint smile, acknowledging the gesture. “It was all right in the end, wasn’t it?”

“Mimi couldn’t take her eyes off it.”

She nodded, a wry grimace. “Hm. But I didn’t wear it for her.”

“No,” I said, meaning, “I know, I’m sorry,” whatever she wanted it to mean, more an embrace than a word.

There was enough hot water for a soak, and everything that had happened began to drain away as my head grew logy with steam. Every part of me ached with a different exhaustion-my shoulders from rowing and lugging the tarp, my legs from the party, my back just from being on edge. But it was going to be all right. My mother would be all right too, though she couldn’t know that now. I washed away sweat, whatever else my skin had picked up. Clean. While the cat was away. Who was to say otherwise?

I looked at my hands again. No rust. But I grabbed the brush anyway and ran it over my nails, pulling the skin back to get the bristles in under the rims. Back and forth, scouring, until they were pale. I sank against the tub, relieved. It was gone; I’d caught it in time. What else? I closed my eyes for a second, back in the dim light of the downstairs hall, seeing everything again, the brocade chair I’d used to pull myself up, the sconce where he’d hit his head, the smug face over the white shirtfront.

I sat up, eyes wide open. The smallest thing could give you away. I got out of the tub quickly and toweled off, and grabbed a robe. No time to dress. The maids would be asleep anyway. I went down and crossed through the piano nobile. No light was coming from the sitting room-my mother must have finally gone up. Down the main stairs, grateful for the carpeting, steps that didn’t creak.

The marble in the hall was cold on my bare feet. I walked over to the door of the room where I’d waited. Reconstructing. He’d had his cigarette here. But I’d already cleaned the ashtray. I’d backed him into the wall there-exactly which sconce? I took a handkerchief and wiped both, looking for any smears, flakes of blood. What if one of the maids came? Then he’d pushed me here. I walked slowly, trying to move with the fight in my head to the spot where he’d lost it, where the shirt stud had popped out. A tiny thing, not even thought of until the bath, but lying here somewhere, waiting to give us away.

I got down on my hands and knees and felt along the dark floor under one of the side tables. It might have rolled, might be anywhere. Every inch, if I had to. They’d know it was his. I patted the floor in front of me. If I turned on the lights, someone would get up, come down to investigate, and then I’d make up something else and someone would ask about that and-an endless spiral of detail, easy to slip up.

I moved my hand in front of me, barely touching the marble, hovering over it like a mine sweeper. The stud must have rolled until it hit the wall. I ran my hand along the edge of the room, then stopped, thinking I’d heard a sound upstairs. I held my breath for a minute, listening, but there was only the water lapping outside, the faint creaking of the boat pulling against its rope. Yes, we’d been near this end, the stud popping out of the shirt. Maybe with blood on it-even more damaging.

I kept feeling my way along the floor, carefully sweeping around the table legs, the crevices where it might hide forever, until they found it. And then there it was. Round, smooth metal, the gold warm even in the dim light. I snatched it and looked at it. The smallest thing. I went to put it in my pocket, then decided to keep it in my hand, to feel it until I could get rid of it in the deep water off the Zattere. Then everything would be all right again.

I put my left hand up to my forehead, surprised to find that I was sweating again, even with my feet cold on the floor. But my whole body was awake, and I knew then what it was going to be like, even when it was all right, a wariness that took over your life, what happened to animals, who either killed or became prey.

CHAPTER NINE

Il Gazzettino had two full pages on Mimi’s ball, mostly pictures of women in gowns and couples standing together, but nothing about Gianni. Cavallini, however, had started his investigation, already up while the rest of Venice slept in, gray and hung over from the night before. His men badgered Gianni’s household staff, questioning them over and over to hear what they’d already heard: Dr. Maglione had left before eight, dressed for the party. He went in the direction of Santo Stefano, presumably headed for the Accademia bridge. He had been in good spirits.

Policemen made some random checks of the canals along the route, but no body had been spotted, no suspicious object had bobbed to the surface. Gianni’s daughter had been called in Bologna and, bewildered, asked if she should come right away and was told to wait until they had more information. His assistant at the hospital was asked to go through his patient list to see if there was anyone he might have stopped to visit. In a small city like Venice, only a few calls from the Questura were necessary: by midmorning everyone knew Gianni was missing. The police had now begun questioning the hotels.

“The hotels?” my mother said. “Why on earth would he go to a hotel?” She was back in the chair beside the ashtray, looking haggard under her fresh morning makeup.

“It’s a procedure, signora,” Cavallini said. “We always ask the hotels, for everything that happens in Venice.” He stopped, putting down his coffee. “It’s not for him, you see. But you must prepare yourself for this-if there has been a crime, there are two people to look for, not just the victim. There is the other. So, anything suspicious.”

“Crime?” my mother said, whose imagination up till now had ended with a heart attack.

Cavallini spread his hands. “We don’t know, signora. Perhaps he saw a crime, a burglary, and then someone had to-”

“But were there any? Burglaries, I mean. Surely that would have been reported.”

“Not as yet,” Cavallini said. He looked at her, his voice soothing. “We don’t know.”

I sipped my coffee, trying not to show any expression. Hotels. Burglaries. No suspicion at all. The desk clerk would confirm what Claudia said, the time she left, the time she came back. With me. Who later was seen by Cavallini himself-a perfect circle.

I had expected to spend the day in a void, dreading any knock on the door, but now I saw that Cavallini’s personal interest gave us a peephole at the Questura-what they were doing, what they were saying, looking everywhere but here. When he left, promising to report later, I took a few minutes to look over the water entrance. Maybe a film of blood had stuck to the canal steps like a bathtub ring, maybe some stains had soaked into the marble. But everything was clean, even tidy, the paving stones piled neatly under the tarp, no smears on the damp floor. Nothing on the boat outside, washed by rain. One of the cleaning women would do the entrance hall today, swabbing down the marble floor, wiping away every mark, every trace. I went back upstairs.

“You don’t have to stay,” my mother said, feet up under an afghan now that Cavallini was gone.

“Of course I’ll stay.”

“No, don’t. I know you. You’ll moon around and treat me like bone china. And I’m not, you know. I won’t break.”

“Somebody has to answer the phone.”

“Oh god, it’s going to start, isn’t it? All the friendly little calls. And we can’t not answer,” she said, shooting me a glance. “What if it’s the police?”

So I spent the rest of the day at home, making cups of tea while my mother retreated into herself. She made no pretense of passing the time by reading, playing cards. She was waiting. She would walk over to the window, then back, absorbed in a world of her own, not even hearing the phone. She smoked and drank tea, thanking me in a voice so abstracted it was almost a monotone, like that of someone who’d taken painkillers and become vague. I fielded Mimi and Bertie and everyone else who called, an afternoon of them, all eager for news, sniffing drama. “She thinks he’s left me,” my mother said when Celia called. “Walked out on me.” So far from what Celia or anyone was thinking that for a second I wondered if she had, in fact, taken pills.

I looked at Il Gazzettino again. Mimi with stars in her hair. The man she called Ernesto, evidently someone important. Not the picture of us with the police, but Cavallini would remember it, which was all that mattered. When exactly had my mother called? While we played and someone else rowed out to the lagoon.

Inspector Cavallini stopped in at the end of the day, in time for drinks, but had nothing new. None of Gianni’s patients had heard from him. No accidents had been reported.

“Imagine,” my mother said, her voice flat. “You can just disappear. I didn’t know it could be so easy.”

“I’m sorry, I must ask. Do you have any thoughts yourself, signora? Something he might have said to you?” My mother was shaking her head. “Anyone who might have wished him some harm?”

I glanced up, but his eyes were on my mother, not even taking me in.

“Of course not. Why would anyone?”

“In this life, every man has his enemies.”

“Why do you think it’s someone-why not a stroke?”

“Because we would have found him by now. A man falls in the street, he would be seen. So of course the possibility is that someone put him somewhere.”

“Where?”

Cavallini shrugged. “The usual place in Venice is the sea.”

I went over to the drinks table, an excuse not to look at him. I heard the tarp splash in.

“The sea? But then-”

“Yes, it’s difficult. We cannot dredge the lagoon. A canal, yes, but not the lagoon. It’s too big. We have to wait for the sea to give him up.”

“Give him up,” my mother said quietly. “You mean his body.”

Cavallini said nothing.

After he left, I made two drinks, but my mother waved hers away. Angelina had lighted a fire and my mother sat next to it, staring, listening to the sound of the burning wood. The phone had stopped. The servants, sensing a kind of illness, had gone silent in the other rooms. I sat pinned to my chair, unable to break the quiet, feeling it like a weight around me, pressing. My mother kept staring at the fire, her eyes dull. I knew it wouldn’t always be like this, that it would pass, but while it was here, the terrible quietness between us, I felt it squeezing, worse than Gianni’s hand on my throat.

At dinner we sat at the same end of the long table. The cook had made a risotto dotted with shellfish, but my mother only picked at it, barely sipping her wine, still talking to herself somewhere else. Finally she put down the fork and lit a cigarette instead.

“Adam,” she said, “that business at the party.”

I looked up.

“You know, when Claudia-” She stopped, waiting to see if I was following. I nodded. “It’s because she thought Gianni had worked for the Germans, you said.”

I nodded again, waiting.

“That’s what you did in the army. Investigate people like that.”

“Yes.”

“And you thought so too. Because she said?”

“No, because he did. All Claudia knew is that he reported her father.”

She took this in without moving, wanting to see it through.

“So if it’s true-” She hesitated. “There would be this hate.”

“She didn’t hate him enough to-”

My mother looked at me, puzzled, then waved this away. “Darling, not her, the others. Inspector Cavallini said, who wished him harm? and I thought, well, if it’s true, there might be people-they’d wish him harm. But that was the war. I thought all that was over. I mean, who goes around now-?” She paused, taking another sip of her wine. “He’s the last, you know. His brother was killed in an accident.”

“No. He was killed by partisans. For collaborating with the Germans.”

She flinched. “What a lot you know.”

“I had his file pulled.”

“You investigated his brother?”

“And Gianni. I thought we should know.”

She looked down, flustered, busying herself putting out the cigarette. “You had no right to do that, Adam. No right.”

“Mother-”

She raised her hand to her forehead. “I know, I know. But the point, darling,” she said, taking a breath, controlling herself, “is that if he did those things, or people thought he did, by mistake or something, then they might have a reason-” She drifted off, letting me finish.

“Yes, if they thought he did,” I said, making it easier.

“It just doesn’t seem possible somehow. That he would. You know, I’ve known him, my god, all my life. Almost all my life.”

“People change.”

“Yes. But they don’t, really.” She looked down at her glass. “He was in love with me, you know, even then.”

“And you?” I said, staring across.

“Me? Oh, no. I was in love with your father. I was, you know. And then I came here-I don’t know why, really, I wasn’t looking for him-and there he is and he’s still in love with me. All those years. It’s funny, the curves life throws at you.” She raised her head. “Did he really do that? Work with them?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Maybe he had to. They forced people, didn’t they?”

I said nothing.

“But that would be a reason. For somebody to-”

“It’s possible.”

She thought about this for a minute, then started brushing the tablecloth, a nervous movement. “Oh, what’s wrong with me? Here we are burying him and we don’t know anything. He could be in a hospital somewhere, anything.”

“Yes,” I said, squeezed again, almost out of breath.

“It’s just, if he’s not-” She stopped her hand, looking at the table. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

She went to bed early, or at least went to her room. I saw the sliver of light under the door, heard the creak of the floorboards, until finally it was quiet there too and I imagined her, still dressed, lying exhausted on the bed. The fire in the sitting room had died down and I sat in the cold, wanting to go out but feeling I couldn’t leave. How long would it take to get through this? Being with her, lying to her, was worse somehow than what had happened-there was no end to it and no going back. I thought of her after my father died, holding herself together for me. You’ll feel better soon. He wouldn’t want you to be sad. You’ll have to take care of me now. All the lies for my own good.

When I woke I was hunched in the chair, cramped, and the light had begun to come in. The electric bars of the space heater, glowing orange, had been going all night, an extravagance, but the room was still cold, the damp seeping in. I switched off the heater and went to the window to see the sun come up behind the Redentore, my old early-morning view. It was going to be a nice day, shiny after the rain. A walk. Nobody would miss me if I went out now. I’d be back in time for the morning vigil, but at least with some air in my lungs.

I crossed over to the San Marco side, away from the house and Mimi’s and the last two days. The sun was already filling the great piazza. I went behind the basilica, taking the route to Santa Maria in Formosa, not going anywhere in particular, just going. Through the campo, then stopping in the street-if I kept going this way, I’d reach the Questura, where Cavallini’s clerks might still be looking through the patient lists. I turned left instead, through the narrow calle and over the bridge to Zanipolo. Past the equestrian statue of Colleoni, where Claudia had stared at Gianni. A few people were going into the hospital-nurses, maintenance men, none of them looking at the rows of arches along the facade, the mosaic Gianni had pointed out, charming a visitor. Along the fondamenta, an ambulance boat was delivering a patient to the side door, just as one had when we’d walked here, Gianni explaining why he’d had to-lying. And then I was at the end, nothing but the open lagoon and the chimneys of Murano. In America you could walk and never stop, never run out of land, but here you met yourself within minutes-a bridge, a canal, then abruptly an end, water or a blind alley.

I looked at the ambulances moored on the quay. What kind of doctor had he been? There must have been a time, cramming for exams, when it had been about saving people, being on the side of the angels. Do no harm. And a few years later he could condemn someone with a nod. What had happened in between? But doctors in Germany had taken the same oath and then nodded and nodded, killing everybody. Maybe nothing had happened, just opportunity. A matter of degree. Think of him young, on the Lido, betraying my father. Or saying he did. I stared at the water. He was off there somewhere to the right. And here at the hospital, everywhere I looked. You could walk all day and never put him behind you.

Cavallini was waiting on a chair in the downstairs hall when I got back.

“Signor Miller, you’re out so early.”

I stopped, hesitating. How long would every question sound like an accusation?

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“Yes, it’s understandable,” he said, getting up. “Your mother, she’s very tired, I think.” Raising his eyes toward the stairs, indicating that they’d already spoken.

“There’s news?”

“I thought I would come myself. A courtesy. The telephone, it’s-”

“What’s happened?”

“A body has been found.”

“What?” How? The rope slipping out of its knots, rocked by the tide? What if the tarp were still there, a match for the one in the water entrance? Why hadn’t I got rid of it? But then someone would have noticed.

“You’re surprised?”

“A body. You mean he’s dead?”

“Yes.” He raised his eyes again. “I’ve told your mother. So at least now she knows.”

“I’d better go up.”

“No, she’s resting. The girl-Angelina? — is with her. Maybe now she can sleep. I was waiting for you.”

“Waiting for me?” I said, feeling a tingling along my skin.

“Yes. I thought-I don’t like to ask your mother, but it’s a formality. We can’t reach the daughter, you see. Another early bird, perhaps. There’s no question, I think-the same description, in evening clothes-but it’s necessary for the formality.”

“What is?”

“To identify the body. It should be family, but you are almost a son. And it’s not good to wait. The condition of the body-he has been in the water. You don’t mind?”

“All right,” I said, not knowing how to refuse. “You know him. Couldn’t you just-?”

“No, no, I am police. It must be someone else. You understand, for the formalities. And now the crime report.”

“Crime report.”

“Yes, he was killed.”

“How do you mean?” I said, maneuvering through this, someone who didn’t know.

Inspector Cavallini made a smashing gesture with his hand. “A blow to the head. So they tell me. I haven’t seen the body yet. We’ll go together, to San Michele. I’ll call the Questura for a boat. Would you open the canal gate?”

“The canal gate,” I repeated vaguely, looking toward the damp room, the steps where I’d dragged him. “Yes,” I said, catching myself, “all right. Just let me run upstairs for a second, see if she’s all right.” To get away, even for a minute. “You can phone in there.” I pointed to the room where I’d waited the other night.

“Thank you. And for this help. I’m sorry to ask you.”

“He was killed?” I said again, because I should be dumbfounded.

“Yes.”

“You mean, not by accident.”

“No, by murder.”

I stared at him, no longer acting, the word itself like a jolt, what it had really been.

“You’re sure? It couldn’t be a fall?”

“No. Not according to San Michele. Of course, I will look myself.”

“But who-I mean, where-?”

Inspector Cavallini shrugged. “We only know where he was found.”

“In the water, you said.”

“Yes, the lagoon. A fisherman, only this morning. The body was caught on a channel marker. Otherwise-” He opened his hands.

“So he could have been put in anywhere.” Far from here.

“Not anywhere. You know, there are channels in the lagoon, like rivers. The tides follow a path. You can see on the charts. This was the major channel from San Marco, behind San Giorgio, out to the Lido. Usually that would mean this side of Venice. But it’s more likely that a boat took him, so the murder itself could have been anywhere.”

“A boat?” I said, my head spinning with charts and currents-this much already known, before the body had even been identified. And then they’d find out the rest.

“Yes, because of the distance from San Marco. It’s unlikely it would float that far in a day. Well, but this is all early, a speculation. First we must see the body. To make sure.”

My mother was sleeping, Angelica indicated with a finger to her lips, worn out by the waiting and now able to go into full retreat. I washed my face and held on to the sides of the basin until my hands were still, looking in the mirror to see what Cavallini would see. Maybe that’s what he wanted-to watch my expression when I saw the corpse, some sly police trick. The smallest thing could give you away. But this was being jumpy. Why should he suspect anything? We’d been photographed together.

When I got back downstairs, he was already at the canal entrance, walking by the tarp, looking up at the gondola. I felt a small tremor in my hands again, then steadied myself.

“You don’t use the gondola?” he said.

“No.” I opened the gate, my back to him. On the canal, the rowboat was bobbing idly at its mooring post.

“Ah, you’re an oarsman,” he said, spotting it.

“Well, not in this weather,” I said quickly. “I haven’t been out yet. Maybe in the spring.” Why say that? What if somebody had seen? Any contradiction would be suspicious. Two things to explain.

“It’s very fine, this one,” Cavallini said, pointing to the gondola. “Old.”

I looked down at his foot, almost touching the tarp. “It came with the house,” I said. “Of course, the lucky thing about Venice is that you don’t really need a boat. You can walk anywhere.”

He nodded, distracted, lifting up the edge of the tarp, used to looking over a room. “Yes, so many boats at Ca’ Maglione, and yet he chooses to walk.”

“Maybe they were put up for the winter too,” I said, raising my eyes to the gondola.

“No, no, all in use.” So he’d already checked. “Many boats,” he said, taking pride in it, a tour guide praising a landmark. “I’ve seen them. My wife, you see, was a cousin of his wife.”

“Oh,” I said, not knowing what to say, what connection he felt this gave him. The endless genealogy of Venice. He was running his hand over the paving stones.

“Yes, a very old family.”

“Everyone in Venice seems to come from an old family,” I said, still looking at the stones. Where was the police boat?

“Well, not all. My family, you know, were simple people. Still, Venetians, educated. But not Magliones.”

And then he had been counting the boats in Gianni’s garage, an in-law invited for tea. I saw him for a second as he must have been-young, the curious eyes over the mustache, smiling at the long-faced girl, moving up.

“You’re making some repairs?” he said, letting the tarp fall back.

“The owner. We lease the house.”

“You see those stairs?” He pointed to the water’s edge. I turned my head slowly, almost expecting to see a streak of blood. “How the sides are weak? You should make the repairs soon. In Venice-”

“I’ll tell the owner.”

“Yes, of course, the owner,” he said, suddenly embarrassed. “Excuse me, I forgot you would be leaving.” I looked at him blankly. “After the wedding.”

The police launch had a motor so loud that we would have had to shout over it, so we made the trip without talking, backtracking up the Rio dei Greci to the Questura, then out past Santa Giustina to the open lagoon. San Michele, the cemetery island, was the first thing you could see from this side, just across the water from the hospital-hadn’t Gianni joked about that? — the low brick mausoleums lined with dark cypresses. We were met at the dock by some of Cavallini’s men, who steered us away from the graveyard paths to the morgue. I pushed my feet one after the other, as if we were wading. There seemed to be no sounds, not even birds, a funeral quiet.

Inside, it could have been any hospital building, white plaster and tile, except for the smell, so heavy and cloying that not even disinfectant took it away. We were led down a corridor by a man in a white coat with a clipboard. He stopped at a heavy double door and said something in Italian to Cavallini.

“He wants to know if you’ve seen a dead body before.”

“Yes.” How many now? Stacked in piles, left in fields by the side of the road, just left, waiting for someone to cart them away. Mouths open, limbs missing. At first you stared, shocked, and then you stopped looking. Five years ago it had been possible never to have seen the dead-a grandfather maybe, lying on a bier. Now you couldn’t count how many.

“You know, for some it’s difficult.”

We paused just inside the door, stopped by the cold. The body was on a gurney, covered with a sheet. His feet were sticking out, not tagged as they were in the movies, just naked and exposed. What would he look like after a day in the water? Eyes still open, staring at me? But it was Cavallini’s eyes that would be open, watching every move. Just walk over to the table. Now.

An attendant pulled back the sheet, drawing it down, and for a terrible second I thought he would keep going, until we saw all of him, his genitals, like an unwelcome glimpse in the shower, without a towel. They had removed his clothes, so there was only skin, pasty and bloated from the water, the hair on his chest matted like bits of seaweed. Someone had closed his eyes, or maybe it was part of the general swelling, the puffy blur of a face, not peaceful, just inert. Pale lips. That gray that only the dead have, not even a color, a warning not to touch. I took a shallow breath, trying to ignore the chemical smell in the room. Gray, awful skin, pouching at the sides.

“You can identify him?” Cavallini said.

I nodded.

“You must say, for the record. This is Giancarlo Maglione?”

“Yes.”

“And you must sign a statement.”

But for a second I couldn’t move. I stared at the body, not Gianni anymore, just a body, utterly still, separate now, something left behind, like molted skin. We always forget what it means, becoming nothing. How long had it taken? A minute, two, water displacing air, and now irretrievable. How did the workers here stand it, day after day, seeing the gray bodies, the terrible reminders? All that we left. The frightened Egyptians thought we’d come back for our bodies if we kept them ready, with pots of barley and hunting scenes painted on walls.

“Signor Miller?” Cavallini said, touching my elbow.

But we never come back. This was all there was, gray skin and fluids to drain. I’d taken the rest. And then gone to a party. But hadn’t he done the same? How many times? Except he never had to see them afterward.

“Signor?” the doctor said.

“Yes,” I said, raising my head. “It’s Gianni.”

“You would sign over here?”

He was leading me away, signaling to the attendant to cover Gianni’s face. We went over to a desk, where he handed me a clipboard and a pen. A long form, as elaborate and unwieldy as lira notes.

“Now what?” I said to Cavallini as I signed.

“Now they make the autopsy. For the cause of death.”

“I thought he was hit on the head.”

“Another formality. In the case of a crime. To be precise, you know, it wasn’t this,” he said, tapping the back of his head. “The doctor says drowning. But now he has to say officially.”

“Drowning? Why would he say that?”

“The water in the lungs. If he had already been dead-”

“You mean someone put him into the lagoon alive?” I said, appalled, forgetting the bubbles now, imagining him struggling in the tarp, fighting his way out.

“They may have thought he was already dead. You know, basta.” He hit his palm with his fist, a hard smack. “Then in the lagoon. But it was the water that killed him. Of course, to the law it will make no difference. Are you all right?”

“Maybe a little air,” I said.

Outside, warmer than in the morgue, I lit a cigarette. “I’m sorry. I’m not usually squeamish. It’s different when it’s somebody you know.”

“Yes, it’s not pleasant for you, I know. Still, a great service to me.”

“Anybody could have-”

“Yes, but since it’s you, now there can be no question about an investigation.”

I looked at him, trying to make this out.

“No question of an accident,” he said, taking out a cigarette of his own.

“But it wasn’t. You said.”

“No. You saw the skull in the back? Not a fall. But how much better for everyone if it had been. So, maybe a temptation.”

“To whom?”

He shrugged. “Poor Venice. The war, finally it’s over, and they start coming back. The visitors. Not soldiers-your mother, her friends. It’s good for Venice. You look at the buildings and we-well, maybe we look at you a little. But no one comes if they’re afraid, if there is crime. A murder? Not in Venice. But now look who identifies the body-one of the visitors. Who sees it’s not an accident. So I have my investigation.”

I drew on my cigarette, my stomach sliding again.

“But surely you would have-”

“Yes, but now I can be certain. Something that involves the international community? The Questura will want to act. To solve it. Men, whatever I need. And we will solve it.”

“I hope so.”

Cavallini reached over, reassuring, and patted my arm. “We’ll find him, don’t worry.”

I nodded, feeling the weight of his hand.

“I know it’s a loss for you. But you’ll help me.”

“Me?”

“You knew his character. With a Maglione, sometimes it’s easier for foreigners than for our Venetian families.”

“But I hardly knew him. I mean, your wife must have-”

“No. A blood tie only, not a friendship. But you, your mother-” He let it drift, waiting for me to pick it up.

“Well, yes,” I said. “We’ll do anything we can. Of course.” I paused. “Do you have any idea who-”

He withdrew his hand, shaking his head. “No, it’s early for that. First we get the facts, from in there.” He jerked his head toward the morgue. “Then we look at the life. Who profits?”

“You think it’s someone who knew him? Why not a robbery?”

He smiled. “A hit on the head, grab the wallet, push him in the canal? But he still had the wallet. Also his watch. What thief leaves a watch? No, some other reason. So, who profits? You see how lucky I am to have you.”

“Me?”

“In a murder you look at everyone. Him? Him? What motive? Who profits? But with you, it’s the opposite. No profit, a great loss. After the wedding, perhaps, I would have had to suspect you too. But now you are the only man in Venice I can’t suspect.”

A trap? Another step through the looking glass? “Why not?” I said quietly.

“Why not? Who throws away a fortune? He would have been your father.”

“Yes,” I said, waiting, my voice neutral.

“Your father,” Cavallini repeated. “One of the richest men in all of Italy.”

I looked at him, then caught myself and turned to the water before he could see my face.

CHAPTER TEN

Gianni’s funeral service was held at the Salute, so close to Mimi’s that it seemed a grimmer version of the ball, with the same crowding at the landing stage, people being helped up the broad steps, all in black this time, with hats and veils. The waiting gondolas stretched up the Grand Canal, as in a Canaletto, filling up the canvas, all of Mimi’s guests and more, enough for a state occasion. When the funeral boats arrived, a cortege of bobbing hearses, people lingered on the church steps to stare at the coffin, draped with flowers. We had become part of a news story: a violent death, an old family, the foreigners who drank at Harry’s. Across the campo, people watched from windows.

Claudia hadn’t wanted to go.

“I can’t. You go.

I’ll stay here,” she said, gesturing at the rumpled bed.

We were always together now, a kind of hiding, making love in her room, wanting each other even more because no one else was part of the secret, a new intimacy. Sometimes we went out for walks and talked about it, the only ones who knew, but mostly we stayed in, sex another way of talking, something else we could say only to each other. When she held me afterward, her fingers would move over my shoulder, making sure I was still there, and I would put my arm around her as if I were folding her up in a cape, making the world go away, both of us safe.

“No. We want them to see us.”

“How can I sit there? What will people think?”

“That you’re part of the family. Cavallini already thinks it. He thinks we’re Gianni’s family. Almost, anyway.”

“Ha.”

“He asked if his wife could call on my mother. Like something out of-”

“Yes,” she said impatiently, “very Venetian. The old manners. And you trust that?”

“You’re going for her sake. He’ll expect it. He’d notice if you didn’t.”

“My god. His family. Am I going crazy?”

I put my hands on her shoulders. “Just this, then we’ll go away.”

“Leave Venice?” She reached up, grabbing my arm. “You think they know something?”

I shook my head. “No, nothing.”

“Then why?”

“Because we’re the only ones who can give us away now-if we slip, say something. So the sooner we leave-”

She looked at me, silent for a minute. “Yes, the only ones,” she said finally. Then she turned away, out of my hands. “But first this. Am I supposed to cry too?”

“Just as long as Cavallini sees you with the family.”

But in fact there was some question about where to seat us. The ushers led my mother to the front, the widow’s pew, and then stopped short, placing us a few rows behind, on the right. My mother, dry-eyed behind her veil, seemed not to notice, still enveloped in that eerie calm that had settled in after Cavallini’s first visit. But someone must have told the ushers, decided on the protocol. It occurred to me then that I had no idea who had arranged the funeral, taken care of all the details that only seem to happen by themselves. A full mass at the Salute. A gondola banked in flowers. A reception at the Ca’ Maglione. All organized, down to where to seat the almost-widow.

I looked at the front pew. Just behind, Cavallini and his wife sat next to the priest from the ball, presumably a row of relatives. But in the front itself there was only an old woman leaning on a girl, who must be the daughter, finally arrived from Bologna. Or had she been here for days, ignoring us, going about her father’s business? I noticed then that the church was divided, the faces I recognized from Bertie’s on our side, Venetians on the other, my mother separated from the family by an aisle.

I stretched my neck, trying to see the daughter’s face, but she was looking straight ahead, to the high altar, where the priest had appeared with upraised hands. We stood, and the backs of the relatives now hid her from every angle. Music echoed through the vault under the dome as the pallbearers brought the casket forward. When we were sitting again, I felt Claudia rigid against me, staring at the coffin. I put my hand over hers and looked past the altar, hoping to draw her attention away. To the left was the sacristy with the Titian ceilings, but they were lost in the space, distant and dim, while the coffin sat right in front of us, inescapable. Down in the first row, the daughter had bowed her head.

The service took hours. I had never attended a mass in Venice-for me, the churches were poorly lit galleries-and the spectacle of it took me by surprise. Busy altar boys in white surplices, Latin chants and candlelight, hundreds of people answering in unison-the whole vast church seemed to be in movement, except the women on either side of me, Claudia still rigid, my mother simply quiet, looking vaguely at nothing in particular. At one point Cavallini turned his head slowly, as if he were counting the house, caught my eye and nodded, but otherwise we were left to ourselves. Nobody stared, more interested now in the theater of public grief. The eulogy, in Italian, was long enough to cover Gianni’s entire life. A choir sang. People streamed down the aisle for Communion.

Who were they all? Patients? Neighbors? There seemed, beyond the formalities, to be a genuine sadness in the room, or at least a somber reserve. What had he been to them? A friend? Or just someone with a doge in the family, respected out of long habit? Or maybe a dinner companion at Villa Raspelli, drinking the last of the good Soave. Don’t forget what he was. I looked down toward the daughter. Did she know? A law student, after all, not a child. But maybe he was still Papa, affectionate at home. People saw what they were supposed to see. Cavallini thought Gianni was rich, what any poor cousin would think, having even less. But the daughter’s grief was real enough. Her shoulders were moving now, shaking with discreet sobs, the only person in the great church actually crying. The old woman-an aunt? the nanny? — put an arm around her. I looked away.

Outside, there was confusion. People loitered on the steps, waiting for a cue. Were we supposed to follow out to San Michele? I remembered my father’s funeral, the long line of black cars, lights kept on, heading slowly toward Long Island. Here they would be gondolas, another ordinary ritual made fantastical by water. Or was the burial private, by invitation? Everyone looked at the daughter, climbing now into a gondola, away from the boat with the casket. Thin, her face still indistinct behind a veil, but perfectly erect, a girl from a good convent school. Her gondola headed up the canal toward Ca’ Maglione.

Cavallini came up to us and took my mother’s hand in a silent condolence, then nodded to Claudia, standing at her side-exactly what I’d wanted him to see.

“Is there a burial?” I asked, looking toward the hearse gondola.

“Yes, but not here. The country house. They’ll take him there, and then tomorrow the family-” He let the rest explain itself. “Today, it’s for Venice.”

“The country house?”

“Yes, on the Brenta. It’s very well known. For the Giorgiones.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “He never mentioned it.”

“Yes, he did, darling,” my mother said, her voice flat. “You just didn’t listen.” She had turned to Cavallini. “Thank you so much. You’ve been kind again.” About what?

“They were not, you know, evidence. And of course Giulia agreed.”

“After you asked.”

“No, no, she agreed. She has them for you.” He looked at me. “Photographs. Of sentimental value, for your mother.”

Not evidence. But something he’d looked over, going through Gianni’s things, already on the case.

“Grace.” A gloved hand appeared out of nowhere, along with Celia de Betancourt’s eager voice. “How awful for you.” She nodded toward the logjam of boats at the bottom of the stairs. “You’re not going back to the house?” she said, somehow making it ordinary, a dusty ranch, not a palazzo on the Grand Canal.

“Yes. His daughter’s there.”

“You don’t mind if I take a rain check, do you? All this.” She waved her hand to the church behind us. “I feel done in.” She paused, catching up. “His daughter. You’ve made up?”

“There’s nothing to make up. She’s been at school.”

“That’s not what Bertie says. He says she-”

I looked up, curious, but my mother was patting her hand, stopping her.

“Celia, I can’t. Not today.” She looked down. “Not today.”

“Oh, sugar,” Celia said, distressed. “This mouth. I don’t mean anything by it. You know I wouldn’t-”

“I know,” my mother said, patting her hand again.

“Not for the world.”

“You’re old friends,” Cavallini said, a polite intervention.

“Since the Bronze Age,” Celia said, herself again, glancing at him. She hugged my mother. “Don’t mind me. I just get funny in church. Everybody being so good. You know.”

“Signora Miller,” Cavallini said. “He’s waving to you. It’s your boat?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“So you took down the gondola,” Cavallini said to me.

“No, it’s hired. The marchesa doesn’t want us to use hers.”

“Just the other boat.”

“Maybe,” I said. “When the weather’s better.” Making a point of it, consistent, but Cavallini seemed not to have heard, busy now with Celia.

“May I offer you a ride somewhere?” he said, courtly, making Celia smile.

“God, would you? Just across. I’m going to swim to Harry’s if I don’t get a drink soon.”

“A long morning,” he said, his voice pleasant but his eyes, just for a second, flecked with disapproval. I looked around for his wife, but she seemed to have gone ahead on her own, leaving Cavallini to the foreigners. “You permit?” he said, taking Celia’s elbow, suggestive, but I saw that the point for him was the flirtation itself, nothing more, a game to distract. There hadn’t been a girl in Maestre either. And he’d already gone through Gianni’s papers.

“What did she mean about Giulia?” I said to my mother.

“Nothing. Just some idea of Bertie’s. About the engagement.”

“You mean she didn’t approve?”

“I didn’t say that. She just didn’t come to the party. A cardinal sin in Bertie’s book, of course. You can imagine.”

“But didn’t she?”

“Darling, ask her. Gianni never said so. You were the one he was worried about.” She stopped on the stairs, lifting her veil and staring for a minute across the water. “You know, children never like things to change. But they do.”

We joined the flotilla of boats heading up the canal to Gianni’s house, Claudia fidgeting beside me, restive, wanting it to be over. The sun had come out, the early Venetian spring that had eluded Mimi, making the buildings shine, scrubbed fresh by the rain. At Ca’ Maglione footmen lifted us onto a floating dock between striped mooring poles, like Mimi’s ball again, without the umbrellas. A long staircase lined with candelabra led up to the piano nobile, the usual Venetian layout. The ballroom was not as pretty as Mimi’s but just as large, done in red damask and heavy gilt chairs, like a version of La Fenice. Everything gleamed, spotless. How large a staff did it take to keep it going?

“I thought you said he had no money,” Claudia whispered to me, looking around.

“I didn’t say broke.” But in fact the room made me uneasy. It was not what I’d expected. No frayed upholstery, no chipped pieces. Nothing needed repair. The war might never have happened.

A long table had been set out with plates of biscotti, coffee cups, and thin glasses for vin santo-spare but appropriate, a reception, not a party. People spoke softly. Near one end Giulia was being kissed by an old man, just a movement to the cheek, hands placed over hers. When he moved back, she turned to the next in line, so that her face was toward us. I stopped. She had the kind of delicate features that went with the convent school posture, but her face, soft and composed, was slightly long, the one trace of her mother’s family. Otherwise, she looked exactly like Gianni, the same wavy hair, broad-set eyes. She was wearing a black dress with a small white bow at the neck, and for one awkward second I saw Gianni in his cutaway, arriving to take my mother to the ball, even the same quizzical look in his eyes. The look, at least, was real. I realized I must be staring and turned away.

“There’s Giulia,” my mother said. “Come and meet her.”

“Later,” I said. “I want some coffee. You go.”

“There’s nothing wrong, is there? You look all white.”

“No, I just need some coffee.” Eager now for her to leave.

“You’ll be nice,” she said, looking at me, a question. “You know you were almost brother and sister.”

“Yes, almost.”

“What’s wrong?” Claudia said to me when my mother left.

“She looks just like him.”

Claudia peered down the table at her. She was greeting my mother now, not with a kiss, but polite. “The eyes, a little.”

“All his features.”

“No, I don’t see that. The eyes, yes. His eyes were like that.” She looked away, then reached over and picked up a coffee cup. “What a pair we are. Standing here talking about his eyes, a man we-” She took a sip of coffee, still looking down.

“I’ll have to say something to her.”

She was leading my mother out of the room.

I looked around. “Who are they? Do you know any of these people?”

“From the newspapers. Il bel mondo.” Claudia said.

“What did the eulogy say?”

“A humanitarian. A savior of men.”

“Christ.”

My mother was back in the room, carrying a brown envelope. Of sentimental value.

“So, another meeting.” Father Luca was leaning over the table to pick up a biscotti. “A very different occasion,” he said sadly, looking at it as if he were referring to the food.

“Yes, very different. A beautiful service, though.”

He nodded. “Father Prato,” he said, “always excellent.” A professional appraisal. He bowed to Claudia, who acknowledged it, then glanced away, uncomfortable.

“He will be buried tomorrow?” I said, making conversation. “In the country, not at San Michele?”

“Yes, of course, the country. All the Magliones are buried there.”

“I didn’t realize he had a house there.”

He looked at me, stupefied, as if this were too absurd to answer. “Yes,” he said finally, “they always preferred it there. Not Gianni, he loved Venice, but the others.” He waved his hand. “Always this love of land. Well, you can see how lucky it was for them. Poor Venice. The trade declines, what do the families do? Buy more ships. But the Magliones? Land. And now the other families are gone. How many of these are left?” he said, indicating the palazzo. “In the family? Not a hotel. Not a museum. Still Ca’ Maglione. It’s because they bought land. It’s an irony, yes? A house in the water, still here, all because of land.”

“How much do they own?”

He looked at me again. “You mean exactly? I don’t know. These are private matters, family matters-”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. Just in general. It’s a farm?”

“A farm? But Signor Miller, the Magliones are the largest landowners in the Veneto. Surely you knew that.”

“No,” I said, disconcerted.

“Yes, from the Brenta-” He started spreading his arms, then stopped. “Well, considerable property. Of course, Giulia, the first wife, also had property. Near Ferrara.” He paused. “His first-his wife, I should say. Now she will be the only one.” He placed his hand on my arm. “I am so sorry for your loss.”

I looked at him, then nodded, a silent thank-you. “I wish I’d known him better.” Something to say.

Surprisingly, this seemed to move him. He gripped my arm tighter. “Your mother. She’s-?”

“It’s hard for her.”

Father Luca shook his head in sympathy. “To lose a man like that. And think of the family. Always taking care of everybody. Paolo, everybody. Even as a child you could see it-the head of the family.”

“But I thought Paolo was older.”

“Yes, but Gianni was the head. Even then. Boys. Well, we were all boys. And now? A tragedy, a tragedy. So much evil in the world now.”

“More than before?” Bertie said, coming up behind him. “I wonder. Luca, I have to drag you away. Hello, Claudia,” he said, his voice cooler. “What a surprise.” He met her eye for a second, then backed away, turning to me instead. “I promised Luca a proper lunch. You must be famished,” he said to him, glancing at the table. “She’s the mother’s daughter, isn’t she?” He sighed. “Be lovely to pay a little attention to the living.”

“But this is traditional.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s perfect. Just right. The mother was like that too. And you never had a decent meal in her house.”

“Signor Howard,” the priest said.

“Oh, I know. Very bad of me. Anyway, come to lunch. Adam, you ought to get Grace home. It’s a strain, a thing like this.”

“She seems all right.”

“Mm. It’s all this holding herself together I don’t like. Much better to collapse with a good weep and get it over with. Much better in the end.”

Father Luca took my hand. “If you ever want to talk, I knew him very well.”

Bertie threw me a “What are you up to” look, then turned to the room. “Aren’t people extraordinary?” I followed his gaze to the crowd in suits and black dresses, idly talking, sipping coffee. “You’d think he’d had a heart attack.”

It was Giulia finally who found us, smoking out on the balcony, pretending there was more sun than there was. “You’re Adam,” she said simply, extending a hand. I introduced Claudia, who moved back against the railing, suddenly skittish, but Giulia nodded graciously. There was no sign of recognition, the engagement party scene apparently not known to her. Another relief, something already fading, no longer gossiped about.

“I saw you looking at me before,” she said.

“I’m sorry. It’s just, you look so like your father.”

“You think so? Most people think my mother.”

“Well, I never knew her.”

“No,” she said, suddenly embarrassed. “Well, the eyes maybe. Everyone says that.”

But her eyes had none of Gianni’s sharpness. They were soft, almost hazy, as if she had just taken off glasses and were trying to focus. “You went to San Michele,” she said, her voice flat, so that for a second I wondered if she resented it, felt it was an intrusion.

“The police asked me.”

“Yes,” she said quickly. “I am so grateful. To see him like that-” She stopped herself. “I gave your mother some pictures. From his youth. They knew each other then, before-before the others.”

“Yes.”

“So it’s a romantic story. I didn’t know.”

“He never told you?”

She looked down. “We didn’t talk about it, no. Well, maybe he tried.” She lifted her head, clear-eyed, no longer soft or unfocused. “You know, it’s not easy to say this. I disagreed with him about this marriage. I thought he was bewitched.”

I smiled to myself. A word never used in conversation. Despite the perfect English, foreign after all.

“But now, I meet her and I see I was wrong. Not the fortune hunter. An affair of the heart.”

“Fortune hunter?” I said, thrown by the unexpectedness of it.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know how to say it. You know, with my father there was always that danger, so it was natural-” She paused. “A mistake. I apologize to you.”

“No, I just meant-” But what did I mean? That she would appreciate the irony? That it was the other way around? I put out my cigarette, stalling. “I wish we’d met earlier.”

“Yes, I apologize for that too. Of course I had examinations, but that was an excuse, really. Anyway, I didn’t come. So that was the last thing he said to me. ‘Good luck with the examinations.’ ” She looked out at the canal, where a vaporetto was passing, catching the faint sun on its white roof.

“You’re going to be a lawyer?” I said, bringing her back to somewhere neutral.

She smiled. “In Italy? A woman? No. They let me study-well, because of my father. But in the courtroom? They wouldn’t like that so much.” This to Claudia, who gave a thin smile back.

“So what will you do?”

“Oh, it was to work with my father. Like a son, you know? He used to say that to me, ‘You’re my son.’ So it’s a good thing to know, law, to run the businesses. My father used to trust everybody, and of course they cheated him. So now his son is there, a lawyer, they don’t cheat so easily.” Not soft. Gianni telling me exactly what would happen at the trial he’d never have. She stopped, smiling shyly. “I’m sorry, it’s boring to talk about this.”

“No,” I said automatically. Businesses, not just land.

“We should go in. It’s getting cold,” Claudia said, folding her arms across her chest and starting for the door.

Giulia glanced into the room, still filled with people. “Yes, they can’t go until they tell me how sorry they are. It’s the form. Over and over, how sorry.”

“Who was the woman with you in church?”

“My grandmother.”

“Gianni’s mother?” I said, a nervous twinge in my stomach. A child killed-nothing was worse. Not just killed.

“No, my mother’s. She’s the only one left now.”

I opened my hand to indicate “After you,” expecting her to follow Claudia through the door, but she hesitated.

“Wait,” she said. “A moment. I don’t know how to say it. I want to talk more. Will you come to see me?”

“Yes, if you’d like.”

“It’s strange, you know, but there’s no one else. I mean, we’re not family, but we might have been. So it happened to you too, this death. Death-murder,” she said. “Murder,” she said again. “They won’t even say it. No one else will care the way we do. You’re the only one I can ask.”

“Ask what?”

“For your help.”

“My help?”

“To find the murderer.”

I stared at her. “But the police-”

“Ouf, Cavallini. Filomena’s husband, that one.”

“He’s still the police.”

“They’ll never find out. They’ll look and then they’ll stop.”

“But you won’t,” I said quietly.

“Never,” she said, her voice Gianni’s again, sure. “I can’t. I’m the son.” She looked at me. “And you.”

“The way she looks at you,” Claudia said later, in bed.

“Like a sister.”

“Ha.”

“Jealous?” I said, smiling at her.

“No, careful. One slip, you say, but who’s talking? The priest, then the daughter. I thought I would scream. I thought we’d never leave.”

I smiled again, but my mind was elsewhere, in the polished high room with the gilt furniture. Not a fortune hunter.

“But we did,” she said, putting a finger on my chest, bringing me back. “So it’s over, yes?”

The largest landowners in the Veneto.

“Everyone saw us. That was the point,” I said.

“Everyone saw us at the ball.”

When I got home, my mother was looking through the photographs, the brown envelope next to her on the couch. I turned on a lamp and went over to the sideboard to make a drink.

“Want one?”

She pointed to her half-filled glass on the end table.

“You know, I don’t remember wearing my hair this short,” she said, peering at a snapshot, “but I suppose I must have.”

“What businesses did Gianni own?”

“Oh, darling, I don’t know, a little of this, a little of that. Wines. He was always talking about that. Why?”

“Giulia mentioned the family businesses. I was just wondering what they were.”

“They own part of a bank. I expect that’s what she meant. And bits of things. He said it was safer that way, spreading out your chips.” She looked up. “Not munitions, if that’s what you mean. He wasn’t that.”

“No, I didn’t mean that. Just curious.”

“Well, the wines he used to mention. He said there was no such thing as a bad year during the war. So much demand. But I think it was more a hobby, really. The rest was through the bank.”

“But he was rich?”

“Darling, what a question. What’s this all about?”

“Cavallini said he was one of the richest men in Italy.”

“Well, the family. They always had pots.”

“But he was the family.”

“After his brother, you mean. Yes, I suppose. But darling, you knew all this. Anyway, what does it matter now?”

“It doesn’t, I guess,” I said, sipping my drink. “But you knew?”

“Well, of course I knew. He always had money. I don’t know how much exactly. I didn’t ask to see his bank balance. I’m not Peggy Joyce yet.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You might as well.” She looked away. “I admit I thought about it. Well, who wouldn’t? But I was fond of him, you know. I really was. It wasn’t just the money.”

I hesitated, taking this in. “I didn’t know it was the money at all. I thought you were in love with him.”

“I never said that,” she snapped, annoyed. “I said I was fond of him. Though why any of this should matter to you now, I haven’t the foggiest.” She put the photographs aside, unfolding her legs, restless. “I must say, you pick your moments. I’ve just buried the last husband I’m likely to have and you want to talk about his finances. Accusing me of I don’t know what. All right. So we’re crystal clear. I was never in love with Gianni. I’ve told you this. I was in love with your father. But Gianni-well, after all these years, I never expected that. And then there it was, and yes, I thought, Well, this is lucky, everything will be all right now. But I was fond of him. I never deceived him about that,” she said, her voice finally breaking. She reached for a handkerchief. “Now look. I get through the whole funeral and now I start to puddle.”

I stared at her, my mind racing, connecting dots. “What do you mean, everything will be all right now?”

“What? Oh, the money. That’s what we were talking about, isn’t it? Anyway, that’s gone now. It really doesn’t matter how much he had, does it? I won’t see any of it.” She sniffed into the handkerchief.

“So what? You have your own. We’ll go back to New York.”

But she was shaking her head. “It’s not going to stretch there. I can do it here. Why do you think I came? You can still live here. You have no idea what New York is like now, just the simplest things.”

“Stretch?” I said, looking at her, trying to follow. “What about Dad’s money?”

“I’ve been living on it. I’m still living on it-I never said anybody was starving.” She moved away. “I don’t know how much you thought there was. Those last years, when he was sick, it just went through your fingers. All the nurses, everything. It goes. And every year there’s less. So you have to be careful. Look, I can do it. It’s just I can do it better here. And I thought, well, you have that little trust from your grandfather-and you were always so independent anyway. I’m not going to be a burden, you don’t have to worry about that. But New York just eats it away. You get worried. You just keep hoping something will turn up.”

“And something did.”

“Yes, something did.” She looked at me. “I didn’t plan it. I went to Paris, not here.”

“I know.”

“But the way you look. So I came and it was lucky, and shall I tell you something? We would have been happy. We would have taken care of each other. He wanted to marry me so much. Why? I don’t know, but he wanted it. We would have been happy. It wasn’t just the money. I was fond of him.” She fingered the brown envelope on the couch, then turned to me. “But you never saw that. Always so-” She cut herself off, then shook her head. “You made it difficult, Adam, you really did. We didn’t deserve that, either of us.” Her voice dropped, finally out of steam, and she moved toward the door. “What shall I tell Angelina? Are you in tonight?”

“Yes, all right.”

“Not for me, I hope,” she said. “I don’t want that, Adam. I don’t mind being alone.” Her shoulders moved, a small shrug. “Anyway, I’d better get used to it.” Almost casual, making peace.

“No,” I said, trying to reassure her with a look. “Something will turn up.”

She nodded, smiling weakly. “Twice.”

After she left I went over to the couch and picked up a few of the pictures. On the beach, with her short hair, in a group. Gianni as a teenager, grinning, then as a young man, sitting with people in cafes, posing in San Marco, in a racing car with his brother, in front of the hospital-all smiling. Giulia must have raided the family album to find Gianni as my mother would have known him, young, unattached. Even in the later pictures his wife was missing-at home, or maybe just outside the frame. Smiling, happy, exactly the man my mother described. Not the one I knew. But they must at some point have been the same. When had everything turned inside out? If it had.

My face felt warm, as if my mother’s words were stinging it. All I’d wanted to do, the start of everything, was to protect her. But he’d been rich, not after her money, not even thinking about it. I dropped the pictures, my hand shaking a little. What else had I been wrong about? I tried to think what his face had looked like when he hadn’t been smiling, when he had been reaching for me in the hall. Malevolent, or just angry, frustrated? Maybe Claudia’s landlady had wanted the rooms back. Maybe the Accademia was cutting staff. Maybe I’d killed the young man in the photograph, imagining he’d become someone else. Held his head underwater until the life went out of him because I had got everything wrong. Not just murder, murder for no reason at all. I sat for a few minutes more, my chest suddenly tight, taking in gulps of air, then went over to the phone and placed a trunk call to Rosa Soriano.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Well, now you have your answer,” Rosa said, tapping the newspaper lying on the folder next to her. We were at the Bauer again, at the same breakfast, except that sunshine had replaced the rain outside. “ Una cospirazione comunista.” She smiled a little, shaking her head.

Gianni’s funeral took up half the front page, with a big picture of the casket being carried down the Salute steps, the veiled Giulia just behind, held by the elbows for theatrical effect, a scene ready for La Fenice.

“Why Communist?”

“Why not? A political killing, very convenient. You don’t scare the tourists and you get to blame the Communists for something else. You see it says here ‘rumors.’ In other words, they don’t know, but now people have the impression the Communists did it.”

“But why would they want to?”

“An old Venetian family, a doctor, a ‘savior of men,’ everything that’s good-naturally they’d want to get rid of him.” She pushed the paper aside. “Who knows why? As long as they did. So now they’re like gangsters, even worse than people thought.” She sipped her tea. “It’s not a political city, you know. Whatever’s good for business.” She smiled. “When the Allies came in-from New Zealand, did you know? Venice liberated by New Zealand-they were still serving German officers at Quadri’s. Not in uniform. Civilian clothes. They hated to leave. One last coffee. So the waiters kept serving. That was all right. It was after — when the partisans acted. For the crimes, all those years. People shot. That was terrible, worse than the Germans. You see how it says here about the brother?” She tapped the paper again. “A tragic family. Again this violence. So they make the connection. Another killing, like the brother. Partisans again. Now Communists, the same thing to them.”

“But maybe it was a partisan.”

She looked at me over the rim of her cup but didn’t say anything.

“You said they acted on their own sometimes. If the trials-”

She was nodding. “Yes, it was the first thing I thought, when I heard. Like Il Gazzettino,” she said, giving a wry glance at the paper.

“But now you don’t?”

“A feeling only. Why now, so late?” She took the cup in both hands, warming herself. “You see, when the Germans left, there were killings like this. A season of bad blood-avenge this one, that one. You know, this happens. A part of war. But then it stops. It’s enough. And the way he was killed-”

“What do you mean?”

“So clumsy. Like a thief. With the partisans, it was a bullet. A military action, not a crime. Oh, such a look. You think it’s the same? It’s not the same to them. These are not criminals. Soldiers. They were fighting for their country. But the war’s over. So why now? It’s only for us,” she said, waving her hand back and forth between us, “that the war doesn’t end. With our files. For the others, it’s late.” She paused. “But also too early. You know, when I said they act, they find their own proof, it’s for justice. Because I couldn’t do it with this.” She placed her hand on the folder. “But there hasn’t been any trial. They don’t have to make their own justice yet. It’s too soon.”

“Maybe someone didn’t want to wait.”

“Maybe, but there’s no talk of this. You know I have many contacts. Old colleagues,” she said, raising an eyebrow, almost conspiratorial. “No one says anything.” She sighed. “But what’s the difference now? He got his justice anyway.”

“You found the proof?”

“Proof?”

“The fire. The house.”

She looked away. “The house, no. No proof. The dates don’t work.”

“What?”

“The man who was in hospital, Moretti, he was released October fourth. That’s the date you found, yes? It’s too early. The raid, it’s not until the fifteenth. Why would they wait? And he doesn’t come to us. A week in Verona, a safe house there. I thought at first it must be-such a coincidence, Moretti in the hospital, if he had just come from Venice, but no. First to Verona. If they tracked him, why wait?”

“For someone else to come to the house,” I said faintly.

“No one else came. Couriers, people who had been before. None of them were in the house when the Germans attacked. None were picked up later. So who were they waiting for? Of course, maybe there’s something in the German records-you know, in all the confusion, some are missing. But still, why wait? It’s not characteristic. The dates don’t work.”

I stared at her, gripping the edge of the table, stepping into the outer swirl of an eddy. “You mean he might not have done it?”

“I mean we can’t prove it. For a trial. Except it’s not a question of that anymore. He’s dead.”

“But how do we know-?” I stopped, one thought tumbling over another. “What if he didn’t do it?”

“If not the house, something else. He was a collaborator, no? Isn’t that why you came to us in the first place? He was what he was.”

“But what, exactly?” I said, mostly to myself.

She looked at me, surprised.

“I mean, we should know. Now that we’ve started.”

“But he’s ended it, Signor Miller. He’s dead. The file is closed. I can’t investigate the dead. There’s no time for that.”

“But he was killed.”

“Well, now it’s a police matter.” She paused. “That’s what’s troubling you? You feel guilty?”

I looked at her.

“Yes, I know,” she said. “I know what you think. We open the file, start looking, and someone hears. Aha, so it’s Maglione, he thinks. And he decides to act. On his own. Because we started this.” She put her hand across the table, not quite touching mine. “We can’t blame ourselves for this. I make files, that’s all. The files don’t kill people. Maybe it was always going to happen. Maybe this is the justice. Anyway, it’s done.” She moved her cup aside, finished.

“But if a partisan killed him, wouldn’t you want to know?”

She looked straight at me. “And what? Bring him to trial? No. My justice doesn’t go that far. And how did he know? Because we started this. Then it’s our fault too? So we all killed him? That’s what you want to think?”

“But what if we killed the wrong man?” I said, shaky, finally there, near the center of the eddy.

She stared at me for a moment, then put both hands in front of her, fingers touching, making a point. “Signor Miller, he’s dead. If he did terrible things-well, it’s good, yes? If he didn’t, he’s dead anyway. What do you want me to do? Get proof and condemn him in the ground? Or no proof-then what? Rehabilitate him? Make a good reputation for him? In Il Gazzettino he’s already a hero. What more can he want? Let it go now. Close the file.”

“But then we’ll never know if he did it.”

“It’s so important to you, this?” she said. “What do you want to prove? That he deserved to die?”

I looked away, for a second seeing again the gray skin on San Michele, pasty and inert.

“Lieutenant Sullivan said it was like this with you,” Rosa said. “Personal. In Germany, every case.”

Had it been? Is that what Joe had thought? Folder after folder. “I hate to walk away. That’s all.”

“Yes, but there are so many others. The point is to make a trial. To make it known. There’s no trial here,” she said, putting her hand on the file. “Not anymore. It doesn’t matter to me how he died. There’s no trial.” She was silent for a minute, waiting, then began to gather up her things. Case closed.

“But I have to know,” I said, the words jumping out of me, trying to hold her in her seat.

She looked up at me, startled.

“Want to know,” I said, correcting myself. “I want to know what he did. So do you.”

“It’s not personal with me, Signor Miller. I don’t have the time.”

It was at that moment, everything swirling again, that I saw Cavallini, a glimpse over Rosa’s shoulder, circling into my line of vision across the room-the mustache, then the side of his face, then his back, sitting down. I craned my neck, looking around her. Was he meeting someone? No, alone. At the Bauer. Talking to the waiter now, opening a paper. Why not at work at the Questura? Unless he was at work, keeping me in sight. The one man in Venice he could trust.

“Look,” I said, dropping my voice, as if he could actually hear it across the room, “all I’m asking you to do is keep checking the German files. There has to be something, and I don’t have access. You do that and I’ll work the rest from this end.”

“Work what?”

“I’ll finish that,” I said, pointing to the file. “The hospital, the times, how it happened.” I hesitated. “The other members of the group. Not to nail them. I promise you, if it turns out-”

“Don’t promise me anything.”

“If it was a partisan, it stops here. You won’t know. Nobody knows.”

“Except you,” she said, tilting her head slightly, as if another angle might explain things. “Then why do it?”

Why. Because there had to be a reason for the bubbles in the water. But why else? Something I could say that she could believe. Over her shoulder, the waiter was pouring Cavallini’s coffee.

“Because it wasn’t a partisan. You don’t think so and neither do I.”

“No?”

“We can’t stop now. You’ve already done the spade work-now you’re just going to give it a pass? An atrocity everybody knows about? There should be a trial.”

“Signor Miller, he’s dead,” she said, her voice weary but her eyes intrigued, assessing me. Think of something. Quickly. Cavallini would turn in his seat any second, make an elaborate show of coming over. Rosa’s help lost for good. I’d never know.

“But not everyone is. Whoever killed him isn’t.”

“Not a partisan,” she said slowly.

“No. And if I find him,” I said, nodding at the file, “then you’re back in business. So it’s worth a chance.”

She had leaned forward, her whole body listening. “Back in business?”

“Well, there’s always somebody else, isn’t there? Always. But nothing ever came out. Then all of a sudden you’re investigating Gianni-you know something, you’re getting close. So if you were the somebody else, it might be a good time to get rid of Gianni,” I said, rushing now, believing it myself, the way it should have happened.

“Another collaborator.”

“Who set up the raid.” I opened my palm, an offering. “Your trial.” And then, before she could say anything, “Could you get me a list of everyone you talked to, who knew you were doing this?”

Because there had to be someone who knew about Gianni, who could tell me.

“Besides you and Lieutenant Sullivan?”

“Everyone. At the hospital, whoever you talked to. It had to be someone who knew this was happening, that you were opening the case.”

“But they might have talked to others.”

“I know. We’ll follow it as far as we can.”

“Oh, we. I told you-”

“ I. You just work on the Germans. I’ll take care of that,” I said, reaching over for the file.

“You know I can’t. It’s Allied property.”

“Joe would do it for me.”

“And me? When they ask me?”

“Files get lost. Misplaced. Even the Germans lost files,” I said. “It happens. And then they turn up again. You want to know what happened too, don’t you?” She raised her hand, letting the file slide away, then pushed up her sleeve and scratched the white skin on her arm. “We both want to know.” I kept looking at her as I pulled the folder toward me.

“And you’re going to do this all by yourself? One man. Talk to all these people, in Italian. How? I can’t take the time.”

“I know. We made a deal. Just work the German side.”

“But you can’t-”

I glanced over her shoulder again. The one man he could trust. Not even an idea, an impulse, grabbing at anything, unable to stop now, the eddy in control. “Yes, I can. I’m going to get the police to help.”

We had to pass Cavallini’s table to leave the dining room, so there was no avoiding a meeting. He sprang up when we got near, as if he’d been waiting.

“Ah, Signora Soriano. They said you would be here.” He took her hand. Waiting for Rosa, not me.

“You know each other?” I said.

“Who said I would be here?”

“I telephoned your office.”

“Ah, looking for the Communists,” she said, pointing to the paper in front of him, mischievous. “You know I can’t help you with that. I don’t know any.”

“No one does,” Cavallini said, smiling back. “Sometimes, you know, I think we make them up.”

Rosa looked at him. “Sometimes you do. But they’re useful, no?” She nodded to the paper.

“Some coffee? You can join me?” He offered a seat.

“No, it’s impossible. I’m late. If I’d known-it’s important? You came here to see me?”

“I don’t like to interrupt,” he said, motioning toward the table where we’d been.

“What is it?” Rosa said, direct.

“Not the Communists,” he said, picking up the paper. “The victim. You have so much information about our Venetian citizens. I thought perhaps-you know, we have to look everywhere in a murder case.”

“Ha, so this is your help?” she said to me. “ Come due gocce d’acqua. What’s the English? Not drops of water-peas.”

“Two peas in a pod,” I said, not really following.

“Both of you, so interested in Maglione,” she said to Cavallini, then pointed her thumb at me. “Talk to him. You know I’m not allowed. Only if Lieutenant Sullivan-”

“But you can tell me-is there a file?”

She kept her eyes on him, away from the folder in the newspaper under my arm.

“A murder case, signora.”

“All right. I’ll look,” she said evenly. “But now I should go. You’re finished with me?”

“It’s not an interrogation,” Cavallini said, smiling.

“There’s a difference, with police?” she said, but pleasantly, easing her way out. “I’ll call you,” she said to me. “Good luck.” This with a move of her eyes to Cavallini.

“So you know the famous Rosa,” Cavallini said as she left.

“She works for a friend of mine. Why famous?”

“During the war, in the resistance. Brave, like a man. The Germans never got her. A Communist, you know.”

“She says not.”

He shrugged. “They all say not. So, why good luck? The peas in a pod?”

“We both asked her about Gianni.”

“Ah,” he said, noncommittal.

“Look, you said on San Michele that I could help. Maybe I can. This is what I did in Germany, with her boss. The army’s not going to talk to you-they like to keep things to themselves. But he’ll talk to me. I can find out what they have.”

“So there is a file.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

But maybe he already knew. “Because I asked them to start one.”

He looked at me for a moment, then at the waiter gathering up cups. “I must get back. But it’s so nice today. Perhaps you’d walk with me? Part of the way?”

Outside, we stopped in front of San Moise, the rococo stone dark with grit even in the bright sun.

“You asked for this investigation?”

“Yes. Didn’t you know?” I said, probing.

“Your mother mentioned something,” he said casually. Known all along. Take nothing for granted.

“Then you also know why.”

He nodded. “The incident with Signorina Grassini, I think. Several have mentioned this.” Why? I felt warm, a rush of blood. Had he been asking about her? Running through his checklist, rumors and times I left the hotel and who had seen what? But the engagement party had been bound to come up. It had happened. And so had the ball, when we’d spent the evening with him, having our pictures taken. Just move the party off his checklist, away from Claudia. “An embarrassment for you.”

“And for her now,” I said, starting to walk, the narrow calle feeling suddenly like a tightrope. Keep your balance and don’t look down. “You know, when something terrible happens, you look for someone to blame. Anybody. And Gianni was there when they were taken. You don’t always think, you just-then later you realize it’s a mistake. You can’t blame someone personally. Of course, Gianni was nice about it. I suppose for my sake. So they made a truce.” The same word he’d used when he lied to me on the fondamenta, maybe a word that was always a lie. “In the end they were both relieved, I think.”

“But you asked your friend-Lieutenant Sullivan? — to investigate him.”

“I wanted to reassure her that Gianni was all right. That she’d made a mistake.”

“And did it? Reassure her?”

“Yes,” I said, looking at him, “because I didn’t tell her what they found.”

He was quiet for a minute, thinking, then stopped. We were near the turnoff for Harry’s, standing next to one of the stores. Shoes and handbags and cashmere, with Harry’s at the end of the calle, my mother’s Venice.

“But you want to tell me?” he said, a question, not a request, his eyes slightly apprehensive. I remembered the broad smile that first night at Harry’s, pleased to see Gianni.

“Yes. But only you. It wouldn’t be fair to his daughter. To my mother, for that matter. Nobody has to know. Not yet. They’re only suggestions. Not proof, suggestions.”

“What suggestions?” he said calmly.

“That he was working with the Germans. That he betrayed partisans.”

“You believe this?”

“I don’t know what to believe. People have to do things in wartime-it’s hard to judge. So maybe yes. But the point is that if he did, then there’s a motive. Why would anyone want to kill Gianni? But if he betrayed them, or if they thought he did-”

He was nodding to himself. “Yes, there were such cases. Rosa knows this. And yet she runs away when I ask.”

“She doesn’t want it to be a partisan.”

“That’s your idea, that it was a partisan?”

We started walking again, past the jewelry stores and into the deep shadow of the arcades.

“You know, Signor Miller, everyone worked for the Germans. We don’t like to say now, but what could we do? This was an occupied country. Even the police worked for them.”

“Not like this.”

“Like this,” he repeated, waiting. “There was a suggestion-”

“That he was an informer for the SS. There was a raid, an atrocity.”

“A fire.”

“So you know about it.”

“I thought it must be that. With Rosa.”

Just then we came out of the arcades into the bright open piazza, that exhilarating first moment when the space of San Marco dazzles. Even Cavallini stopped, looking across at the campanile and the domes of the basilica.

“It seems impossible, doesn’t it, that such things could happen,” he said, “where it’s so beautiful.” I glanced at him, surprised. “Look at this,” he said, genuinely moved. And in fact the piazza was spectacular, flooded with spring light, the sun flashing off the gold mosaics, the pigeons swooping up and around in the soft air. “Imagine,” he said, “to be a Maglione in this city.” He turned to me. “I hope you’re wrong, Signor Miller. So many years, and then a disgrace like this on the name.”

“I hope I’m wrong too. For my mother’s sake.”

“Yes, forgive me,” he said. We started to walk across the piazza. “I forgot what this would mean to her. I was thinking of my wife’s family. An indulgence. Do such things happen? Who knows better than a policeman? Of course you’re right-we must know. I’m grateful to you for your help.”

“Maybe we can help each other.”

“Yes?”

“I can find out what Joe Sullivan has-well, Rosa, really. But if we want to take this any further, there are hospital records to check, and I’d need your authority for that.”

“My authority? But the Allies have all the authority you need.”

“For war crimes. But now he’s dead. They’re not interested in trying a dead man. What would be the point? So it’s a police matter. Your case.”

“My case,” he said to himself, as if he were trying out the phrase. He looked up at me, a faint grin under the mustache. “And you want to be the Dr. Watson? The partner? It’s not usual, such an offer.”

“Just an assistant. If it would help.”

“Oh, I accept, I accept. An experienced investigator? For you it’s like old times, maybe. More Germans.”

“No, no trials this time. I just want to know whether he did it.” I looked at Cavallini. “And then we’ll know why he was killed.”

Unexpectedly, he extended his hand. “I am so grateful for your help. At the Questura, do they want this? To know why? With you, it’s a family matter, they say to me. You see, you can understand that. But the others? They just want it to go away. For everything to be normal. The tourists will be here soon.”

Around us, as a kind of live illustration, the waiters were putting out more tables at Florian’s, even one day’s sun an excuse to start the season. In a few days the musicians would be back, playing waltzes, and everything would be the same. I watched for a second, uneasy, even the white-jacketed waiters carrying chairs suddenly surreal. I was supposed to be one of the people sitting down for coffee, reading an English newspaper, writing postcards. Not lying to policemen, who were grateful for my help.

“Will you come back to the Questura?”

“I can’t now,” I said. “Anyway, I’d better call Joe. Get you the file.” After I’d read it first, decided what to pass on. “So we can start.”

“Yes, thank you,” he said, but the idea seemed to darken his mood again, a reminder. “I remember the incident of the house very well. Those were the worst times, near the end. I don’t know why.”

I shrugged. “The losers are desperate and the winners aren’t accountable yet. So it’s open season. It was the same in Germany. At the War Crimes Commission, most of the cases were recent.”

“War crimes,” he said. “Sometimes I think everything in the war was a crime.”

I looked at him, surprised again. “And nothing. That’s the problem. It’s war, so it doesn’t count.”

“Well, now it’s over,” he said, taking one last look at the piazza, still filling with chairs. “Now it counts.”

CHAPTER TWELVE

Are you crazy?” Claudia said.

“Maybe. But this way we know everything they’re doing.”

“Help them. What are you going to do? Help them catch us?”

“The closer I get, the more they look somewhere else. I’m making them look somewhere else.”

“No, digging a grave. Two. Not just yours.” Pacing now, drawing smoke in tight gulps, as if she were angry at the cigarette too.

“We want them to look somewhere else. You don’t want them coming back to that party.”

“Back to me, you mean.”

“Back to either of us,” I said, looking at her. “Either of us.”

“And now they won’t-because you’re there? Maybe they ask themselves, why does he do this?”

“Look, I was a kind of cop. Something like this happens in my family, they expect me to take an interest.”

“Not your family.”

“Close to me, then. They expect me to help. Cavallini asked me. Giulia asked me.”

“Oh, Giulia. The pretty sister. Now, not a sister. So there’s a convenience.”

“Stop.”

“What do you want to do, make it up to her? ‘I’ll find out who did it.’ Ha. Not as difficult as she thinks.”

“Claudia.”

“Maybe you want to show her what he was like. ‘Here’s your father. SS.’ You think she’ll thank you for that, your little sister?”

“Are you finished?”

She turned her back to me. “You said we would leave Venice.”

“We will.”

“Oh, but not yet. Not until it’s too late.”

I put my hands on her and turned her around. “Listen. This is how it works. I show Cavallini what Gianni did. I prove it. So it’s the logical answer, the only place he looks. Not here, not at you, not at me. Some partisan, someone Gianni betrayed.”

“And when there is no partisan?”

“But they’ll think there is. Maybe dead, maybe still out there-they don’t know exactly, we never find out, but we know who it has to be. The kind of crime. So they’re satisfied-it couldn’t be anyone else. And maybe it’s just as well they can’t get him. That way nothing has to come out about Gianni. No scandal. No disgrace. All covered up. Like his brother. All they want is an answer to what happened, something plausible. They don’t want to open anything up. Nobody wants to know.”

She was silent for a minute, then moved away, carrying her cigarette to the table. “Only you,” she said, putting it out. “You want to know.”

“Don’t you? I want to be sure.”

“Sure of what? You want to use the police to prove he was guilty? Why? So that it was right for you-”

“I want to lead them somewhere else.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “You’ll lead them back to us.”

“The closer I am to them, the safer we are.”

She looked up. “Yes? Unless they use you.”

We stopped then, too tired to go any further, but the argument went on in different ways, a general prickliness that began to seep into the days.

Claudia had found a job in a lace shop near San Aponal.

“You don’t have to work.”

“Yes, I have to. What do I do, sit and wait? Besides, after the Accademia, maybe they think I have a grudge. No job. So it’s better.”

“No one suspects you.”

“Maybe I want to do it anyway. What else? Sit with your mother, waiting for her to guess?”

So we saw less of each other, busy being careful in public. I went through reports at the Questura-a staff member to translate, a desk that wasn’t officially mine but was always available-and Claudia made a point of not asking where I’d been. One night, leaving her hotel, I realized that we’d made love because we were expected to, as if our comings and goings were still being monitored, even sex now part of an airtight alibi, something noted for a file.

On Sunday the weather was still fine and we went to Torcello, an excuse to get away. The vaporetto wasn’t crowded-a few families going out to Burano and two American soldiers in Eisenhower jackets who sat inside with half-closed eyes, out late the night before.

The military had been a light presence in Venice during the occupation, and since the official changeover in December soldiers were even less visible, more like tourists passing through than conquerors. In Germany it had been rubble and jeep patrols and lowering your eyes when a soldier passed, keeping out of trouble. Here, in the close quarters of the boat, the Burano families stared openly, curious, as if they were sizing up customers. I thought of the Germans finishing coffee at Quadri’s. Now the Allies. Who might like a little Burano lace to send home.

Surprisingly, however, the GIs got off with us at Torcello. I looked at the sluggish canal, the lonely marshes beyond, and wondered if they’d made a mistake, but after a quick glance at a map they went straight toward the piazza. Claudia hung back, letting them go ahead. No one else was around. Somewhere on the island, on one of the farms, a dog barked. Otherwise it was quiet, no summer insects yet, just the wind moving through the reeds. By the time we caught up with the GIs, they were standing in the piazza, a worn patch of grass, looking as melancholy and lost as the shuttered buildings around it.

“There’s supposed to be a restaurant here,” one of them said. “Locanda. You know where that is?”

I pointed to the closed-up inn across from us.

“That’s the one Harry’s runs?”

“Yes, but only in the summer,” I said. “It’s too early.”

“Well, shit,” he said, then dipped his head toward Claudia, an apology to a lady.

“They didn’t tell you?”

“I never asked. I just heard about it. Shit.” He looked around the empty island. “What’s the rest, a ghost town?”

“No, people live here. Farms. It’s just a little early in the season. You’re welcome to have some of ours.” I pointed to the picnic bag.

“That’s okay, we’ll just catch the next boat.”

“That’ll be a while. You check the schedule?”

He shook his head, then grinned. “Never thought to look.”

We opened the wine and shared out the salami sandwiches, sitting on the steps of the Greek church, Claudia slightly away from us, uncomfortable. They were on furlough, trying to see something worth seeing before they headed back to Stuttgart. It was the usual service talk-where I’d been stationed, where they were from, when their separation papers were coming through.

“And I can’t wait,” he said. “I mean, I can’t fucking wait. They can keep the whole thing.” He spread his arm to take in all of Europe, then remembered Claudia and dropped it, embarrassed. Instead, as if it would explain things, he pulled out his wallet and showed us a picture of his wife, Joyce. Head tilted for the camera, blond, ordinary, holding a baby in her arms.

“A boy?” Claudia said.

He grinned back. “Jim junior. Haven’t seen him yet. Just this.”

“Well, but soon, yes? They’re sending everybody home now. We saw it in the newsreels,” she said. “All the boats.” Thousands of waving soldiers, the skyscraper shot, then running down the gangplank, arms open.

“You from here?” he said, intrigued by her accent, maybe the first Italian he’d met. He looked around. “What is this place, anyway?”

“It was the first Venice, where it started.”

“So what happened?”

“The canals silted up. Malaria too, I think.”

He gave her an “I’ll bet” look. “Anything here to see? I mean, you came out, and you knew the restaurant was closed.”

“The basilica is very old, eleventh century. The original was seventh,” Claudia said. “The mosaics are famous.” But she was losing them. They were already looking away, uninterested. “And, you know, for walks.”

“Right,” he said, nodding. “Walks.” A smile, just a trace of a leer. “And here we are, in the way.” He brushed off his trousers, standing up.

“But you don’t want to see inside?”

“Tell you what, you take a look for me. I never know what I’m looking at anyway. We’ll just go wait for the boat, let you be.”

“It’s a long wait.”

“Not in this sun. I could just soak it up, after Germany.” He grinned. “Fucking sunny Italy, huh?”

They took a photograph of us, then headed down the canal path to the pier, turning once to wave.

“So that’s who comes to Cipriani’s,” Claudia said, amused.

“Not usually,” I said, leaning back. A favorite of Bertie’s before the war. “I wonder how they heard about it.”

“Oh, how do people hear about anything? Somebody tells them.”

“Yes,” I said lazily, closing my eyes. “And who tells him?”

“Somebody else.”

“And him?” I said, playing.

“I don’t know. Maybe Cipriani.”

I smiled, letting the thought drift, then sat up, taking a cigarette out of my pocket. “So who told Gianni? I mean, how did he know?”

She looked at me blankly.

“Rosa said he wouldn’t know a partisan-somebody would have to tell him. Not the SS. If they already knew, why use him? Somebody else. Maybe I’ve been looking at this backwards.”

“How do you mean, backwards?”

“We’ve been tracking what happened after, and we’re getting nowhere. But what about before?” I bent over, lighting the cigarette, then saw her confused expression. “Look, the only one in that house who’d been in hospital was a man called Moretti. If there was a connection to Gianni, he’d be it. But he was discharged more than a week earlier. So where was Gianni all that time? There’s nothing to prove he was involved at all.”

“So maybe he wasn’t,” Claudia said calmly.

“No proof,” I said, not listening. “A few visits to Villa Raspelli. But if he did know about Moretti, how did he know? Maybe that’s what we should be looking for. The link before.”

“And if you don’t find that either?”

I exhaled some smoke. “Then we can’t prove he did anything.”

“He gave them my father.”

“But there’s no proof he did.”

“No,” she said, “only me.”

“I didn’t mean-”

“Just my word. And now he can’t answer. So how can you prove it? Maybe I made it up. The camp too. Maybe it’s all in my head.”

“I didn’t mean-” I said again.

But she was gathering things up, finished with it. “Let’s see the church.”

I put out my cigarette, still thinking, and followed her inside. Santa Maria Assunta had been built before churches became theaters-the walls were austere and the air was damp. We could see our breath in little streams. Venice was still primitive here, the island a mud bank with reeds again, the world full of mystery and fear. But then there were the mosaics at the end, cold and glittering, spreading over the chancel in an arch of colored light. People would have knelt here on the rough stone floors, dazed.

“You see the tear on her cheek?” Claudia said, pointing. “Mary crying. It’s unique.”

We studied the Apostles for a while, then walked slowly back to the west wall and the big mosaic of the Last Judgment, the afterlife arranged in tiers, a medieval sorting out, with hellfire on the bottom. Dying wasn’t enough for the early Christians-there had to be punishment too. Claudia stood before it with her arms folded across her chest, working her way down through the levels of grace to the figures on the lower right, engulfed in flames.

“So this is what happens after,” she said. “But they didn’t want the Jews to wait. They burned us here.”

The chill of the old stone followed us out into the piazza, not quite as sunny as before. We took one of the footpaths leading away from the canal, waving to the GIs, who were still waiting on the dock for the Burano boat. “Why are they laughing?”

“They think we’re going parking.”

“Parking?”

“Kissing. In a car. People drive somewhere to be alone.”

“America,” she said. “Everyone has a car.”

“Will you like that? You’ll have to learn to drive.” An unexpected thought, jarring, because I had never imagined us beyond Venice, anywhere outside her room.

“Drive,” she said, maybe jarred too. “Here, no one does.”

Except Gianni’s brother, I thought. Who had actually pushed him off the road? Maybe a connection. Something to ask Rosa.

We passed the farm with the dog, then turned onto a path that led down to the water, a cleared patch of dry land that looked back through the reeds to the campanile. In summer, lovers would come with picnics. Now we pulled our jackets tight against the wind.

It was only after his brother’s death that Gianni had made the house calls to Villa Raspelli. Younger, but head of the family, Father Luca had said. His brother’s keeper.

“So you’re thinking again,” she said. “Why is this so important to you?”

“I don’t want to be wrong.” I turned to her. “Then it’s just personal-something I did for myself.”

She stopped in the path. “He was trying to kill you.”

I looked over the reeds. His eyes, hesitating, about to stop, then the slippery stairs, my hand underneath, getting cold as I held him there, my breath ragged.

“What?” she said.

“No, I wanted to do it,” I said finally. “I wanted to do it.”

She came over to me. “You know what he was.”

“If he was. I was wrong about him and my mother. He was never after her money, never. Anyway, it turns out there isn’t any.”

“No?” she said, then started to smile, raising her hand to brush at my hair. “So it’s lucky I found the lace shop.”

“I was wrong,” I said, not letting go.

She brushed my hair again. “It doesn’t matter now. It doesn’t change anything.”

“Of course it matters.”

“Why? So you can blame yourself? And then what? For you it’s like the mosaic.” She tossed her head toward the church. “Always a judgment. There is no judgment. No one is judging. No one is watching.” She stopped, dropping her hand. “No one is watching.”

“Then we have to,” I said.

“Oh, like he did,” she said, annoyed, moving away. “Play God. Of course, a doctor, they’re used to that, aren’t they? Then he plays it with my father. Bah.” She waved her hand. “But that’s not enough for you. How guilty does he have to be? Before it’s all right?”

She walked to the end of the clearing where it was sunny and faced the water, using her back to put an end to the conversation. I went over to her, not saying anything.

“That’s Jesolo,” she said, pointing, meaning nothing, not expecting a response.

I took out my cigarettes and offered her one, waiting for her lead. But she seemed to enjoy the silence, turning her face to the sun, then squatting down to test the ground for dampness, sitting, and lying back. I sat down next to her.

“This is better. All week in the shop, never any sun,” she said.

I stretched out, leaning on my elbow to prop up my head as I looked at her.

“You don’t have to work there,” I said, going along. “I mean, with your English. They’re always looking for translators. Joe would hire you in a second.”

“For the army? No, not even yours. Not carabinieri either. Or police. No uniforms.” She glanced over. “I don’t work for the police. One of us is enough.”

I turned and lay on my back, squinting at the bright sky. In the distance was the faint sound of a boat’s motor, maybe the GIs’ vaporetto. “What’s wrong?” I said. “All week. It’s not Cavallini, not really. What?”

“I don’t know.” She paused. “I’m worried.”

“About what? I’m telling you, they don’t know.”

She shook her head. “Not that. It’s different between us. At first, it made us closer. And now, already we’re quarreling.” She turned to me. “You can’t change it. What it is. You want to make it better. Nothing makes it better.”

“I know.”

“But you keep thinking, maybe. It’s in your head.” She lay on her back again.

“Nothing’s different between us. I just want to know about him, that’s all. It’s important.”

She closed her eyes, another way of turning her back, and said nothing for a few minutes, then sighed, not much louder than the moving reeds.

“They have sun in Georgia?” she said. “Where that soldier lives?”

“Nothing but.”

“So he’s happy there. But not you,” she said, thinking aloud. “You don’t want to go home.”

“I’m happy here.”

“No. Something else. Those men on the ship-in the film, remember? So excited. It’s over for them.” She turned, opening her eyes. “But not for you.”

I said nothing, remembering Rosa wagging her finger between us, both of us still with files.

“Maybe it takes an ocean, and then it’s gone,” she said. “Oh, I want-”

I looked over at her. “What?”

“What? What do I want?” she said to herself. “I want to be Joyce. The girl in the picture. Make curtains. Wait for the ship. Feed the baby.” She stopped, her voice drifting off. “Think how wonderful, not to know about any of it. Not any of it.”

“And that’s the life you want,” I said, teasing. “Joyce.”

“No.” She turned. “Anyway, I can’t. No babies. So that’s something you should know,” she said, her voice tentative, waiting for a response.

“Oh,” I said finally, trying to sound easy.

“Do you mind about that?”

“No.”

“No?”

Another pause, this time waiting for her.

“I got rid of it myself, in the camp. I knew that if he found out, he’d send me. And there was no one to help, so I did it myself. That’s why.”

I looked at her for a minute, not saying anything. Then she moved to brush off a blade of grass, pushing at her sleeve, and for an instant I saw Rosa’s arm again with its jagged patch of white. Visible scars, reminders. But what about the others, the ones you couldn’t see? Years of them, nobody unblemished now.

I reached over and touched her hand. “I don’t want Joyce.”

“So it’s lucky for me.” She closed her eyes. “But now there’s this. Maybe you enjoy it, being police. But it’s both of us they’ll catch. Why do you have to know?”

“I held him under, Claudia. Me. What if-?”

For a minute she didn’t say anything. Then she took a breath. “When it happened, I thought you did it for me. So they wouldn’t take me. I thought my heart would stop. Imagine, someone doing that for me. Everyone else wanted me dead, and you-” She moved her hand away and sat up. “But now it has to be something else, I don’t even know what. You can’t change what happened, whatever he was. Say you did it for me. Isn’t that enough?”

“Yes,” I said quietly.

“But you still want to know.”

I sat up, looking straight at her. “I saw the body. What he looked like after. I can’t explain-it’s different when you see what it really means.” I dropped my head. “It won’t take long. Nobody suspects.” I ran my hand over the grass. “How else are we going to live with this?”

She smiled slightly, giving up, a movement of the lips, not really a smile at all. “Oh, how. You can live with anything. Anything.”

“What was Paolo like?”

“Paolo? A puppy,” Bertie said. “Why Paolo all of a sudden?”

We were having coffee in Santo Stefano, a chance meeting on my way to Ca’ Maglione, where Giulia was waiting with Gianni’s papers. The sun was bright enough for umbrellas at the cafe tables, but the air was still cool. Bertie was wearing a three-piece oyster-colored suit, perfectly pitched, like the weather, somewhere between winter and summer.

“I don’t know about him. About any of Gianni’s family, for that matter.”

“ Now you want to know?”

“It might help.”

“Who? Your friends at the Questura? I hear you’re thick as thieves. Is this an official visit?” he said, his voice rising slightly, like an arched eyebrow.

I smiled. “I’m just trying to help. It was Giulia’s idea.”

“Oh, Giulia’s idea. The fair Giulia.” He looked over at me, then tilted his head, his eyes beginning to twinkle. “No, it’s too penny dreadful. Still.”

“Having fun?”

“I admit it’s a little novelettish, but think how suitable.”

“Well, don’t.”

“And Grace the dogaressa after all.” He giggled.

“Bertie.”

“Oh, I know, I know. Very bad. It’s just a thought. Anyway, you’re otherwise attached. As we know. There’d be that to contend with, wouldn’t there?” His voice casual, Claudia still an inappropriate affair to him, unaware we were joined by blood now, our hands streaked with it.

“Yes, there would.” I leaned forward, serious. “Bertie, tell me something. What happened at the Accademia?”

“Me? Why ask me?”

“Because you know.”

“I don’t always, you know. Better not to. Venice is a very small town. You don’t want to be telling tales out of school-people don’t like it.”

“Tell this one.”

He looked at me, then nodded. “I don’t want any reactions, please. It’s not perfect, the world, not even here.” He glanced around the sunny campo, the terra-cotta planters sprouting bits of white, the first spring flowers. “Some attitudes-not very nice, but they just don’t go away overnight, either. And at first, of course, no one thought to ask. There’d never been any, you know, not in the curatorial department.” He let it hang, awkward, and took a sip of coffee.