This is the opening of Blood Will Tell – a short Milo Peretti mystery…
Emilio Peretti had seen dead bodies before. His grandfather. Uncle Fabio. The dead always seemed to look so peaceful lying there all dressed up in their Sunday clothes. As if they had fallen asleep in church. But this messy business was a whole world away from paying your last respects beside an open coffin. Based on the evidence in front of him, being shot in the head was anything but a peaceful way to go.
The body was slumped in a corner behind the desk. A once crisp white shirt had been dyed a rusty red by the blood. That was the first thing he noticed as he stepped into the office. The amount of blood. He wrinkled his nose at the pungent coppery smell that had all but overpowered the more regular musky one of old paper and neglected books.
There was splatter on the wall at roughly head height and then a long smear below it where the body appeared to have slid down the whitewashed plaster on its way to where it now lay. The pool on the floor around the victim was large enough to make Peretti wonder what had seen him off him first – the internal damage done by the bullet or the loss of blood.
It was the sight of the blood that brought back boyhood memories of spending the holidays on his grandparent’s farm in Tuscany and helping to slaughter the pigs. The very first winter he was allowed to join in, he wanted desperately to cover his ears and block out the sound of the frantic squealing. But, determined to prove his manliness, he gritted his teeth and kept his hands firmly in his pockets. One bolt from the gun and the squealing stopped. A deep slash of the knife and it was over.
The animal was hung up then to let gravity do its work and the blood ran in angry red rivers through the snow. Violent crimson against virginal white. Like flowers at a funeral. But the sight of blood had never really bothered him. It was the eyes that he could never forget. Staring sightlessly down at him from the meat hook in silent accusation.
In a strange sort of way, Signor Vialli reminded him of the pig. Eyes wide open in that cold, dead stare. A look of surprise, perhaps, on his face. But surprise at what? Pain? The fact that his nerve had held long enough for him to pull the trigger? Or the grieving mother’s theory. Surprise at having a gun pulled on him in his own office.
Peretti took a step back and tried to get the scene straight in his head. There seemed a stark contrast between the almost obsessive tidiness of the place and the gory mess behind the desk. It was a typical accountant’s office. Everything in its place. Books arranged by size were marching along the shelf with regimented precision. The telephone was set perfectly square on the desk. Pens lined up ready for use. Peretti blew out his cheeks and whistled softly. If the office was anything to go by, this guy probably had a sock drawer with the contents organised by colour.
Taking his mobile phone out of his pocket, he began snapping photos. The body, the desk, the wall. Everything had to be captured. He’d commit it all to memory anyway but it was better to have the pictures to study later.
‘Hey. Signore. Who let you in here?’
Peretti slipped the phone back into his pocket and spun around. The policeman’s shoulders filled the doorway. The round-faced little officer peering from behind him was the same man who had been on guard at the front door and Peretti pointed in his direction.
‘That would be your colleague here. He’s been very helpful.’
The policeman turned and raised an eyebrow.
‘Is that so?’
The little man spread his hands and opened his mouth ready to make his defence. His outranking officer cut him off with a shake of the head.
‘No. On second thought, I don’t want to hear it, Contadino. For now you can go back to the task you were supposed to be doing when our friend walked in. And if there are any more unwanted visitors then you’ll be with the Carabinieri doing whatever it is the Carabinieri do faster than you can blink.’
The little man nodded, did his best salute and disappeared. His boots echoed down the hallway as he retreated to the front door. The remaining policeman turned back to Peretti.
‘Would you care to explain yourself? What are you doing poking around in here?’
‘My apologies, I presumed Signora Vialli told you I was coming. My name is Emilio Peretti. Private investigator. Signora Vialli has hired me to find out who killed her son.’
The eyebrow went up once more.
‘Peretti you say? Any relation to Fabio Peretti?’
‘He was my uncle.’
The policeman threw up his hands.
‘Mah! So we get rid of one busybody only to find another one comes to fill his shoes. And now I have a suicide which will become a murder because of it. Look, the door was locked and the key was in the man’s pocket. We found him with a gun in his hand that was registered in his name. What else do you need? But no, it’s a murder. Of course it is. Because Fabio Peretti has come back to haunt me. Now go. Get out. And don’t let me catch you snooping around again.’
‘I had no idea my uncle was so bad at making friends. I think I’m going to enjoy trying to fill his shoes. And as for the suicide, well, we’ll see.’
Peretti stepped out into the hallway and headed for the street. The uniform on the doorstep half looked at him and then began studiously polishing a spot on his boot.
‘Goodbye, Signor Contadino.’
The man kept polishing.