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IM11 The Wings of the Sphinx (2009), page 1
Table of Contents
A PENGUIN MYSTERY
Praise for Andrea Camilleri and the Montalbano series
“The idiosyncratic Montalbano is totally endearing.”
—The New York Times
“Camilleri is as crafty and charming a writer as his protagonist is an investigator.”—The Washington Post
“Like Mike Hammer or Sam Spade, Montalbano is the kind of guy who can’t stay out of trouble. . . . Still, deftly and lovingly translated by Stephen Sartarelli, Camilleri makes it abundantly clear that under the gruff, sardonic exterior our inspector has a heart of gold, and that any outburst, fumbles, or threats are made only in the name of pursuing truth.”—The Nation
“Once again, violence is muted, complications rule, politics roil, but humor . . . prevail[s] in the end. Italy is good to visit, even if only in print. And what better way to shorten a flight to Palermo than by gobbling this tasty snack along the way?”—Los Angeles Times
“[Camilleri’s mysteries] offer quirky characters, crisp dialogue, bright storytelling—and Salvo Montalbano, one of the most engaging protagonists in detective fiction. . . . Montalbano is a delightful creation, an honest man on Sicily’s mean strets.”—USA Today
“The Montalbano mysteries offer cose dolci to the world-lit lover hankering for a whodunit.”—The Village Voice
“The reading of these little gems is fast and fun every step of the way.”—The New York Sun
“Wittily translated from the savory Italian, Camilleri’s mysteries . . . feature the sardonic Inspector Salvo Montalbano, whose gustatory adventures are at least as much fun as his crime solving.”
—Rocky Mountain News
“In Sicily, where people do things as they please, Inspector Montalbano is a bona fide folk hero.”
—The New York Times Book Review
Also by Andrea Camilleri
The Shape of Water
The Terra-Cotta Dog
The Snack Thief
Voice of the Violin
Excursion to Tindari
The Smell of the Night
Rounding the Mark
The Patience of the Spider
The Paper Moon
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A PENGUIN MYSTERY
THE WINGS OF THE SPHINX
Andrea Camilleri is the author of many books, including his Montalbano series, which has been adapted for Italian television and translated into nine languages. He lives in Rome.
Stephen Sartarelli is an award-winning translator and the author of three books of poetry, most recently The Open Vault.
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published in Penguin Books 2009
Translation copyright © Stephen Sartarelli, 2009
All rights reserved
Originally published in Italian as Le ali della sfinge by Sellerio Editore, Palermo.
Copyright © 2006 Sellerio Editore.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product
of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
[Ali della sfinge. English]
The wings of the Sphinx / Andrea Camilleri ; translated [from the Italian] by Stephen Sartarelli.
p. cm.—(A Penguin mystery)
eISBN : 978-1-101-15962-0
1. Montalbano, Salvo (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Police—Italy—Fiction. 3. Murder—
Investigation—Fiction. 4. Human trafficking victims—Fiction. 5. Catholic Church—
Charities—Fiction. I. Sartarelli, Stephen, 1954- II. Title.
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What ever happened to those early mornings when, upon awakening, for no reason, he would feel a sort of current of pure happiness running through him?
It wasn’t the fact that the day was starting out cloudless and windless and the sun shining bright. No, it was a different sensation, one that had nothing to do with his meteoropathic nature. If he had to explain, it was like feeling in harmony with all of creation, perfectly synchronized with a great stellar clock precisely positioned in space, at the very point that had been destined for him since birth.
Bullshit? Fantasy? Maybe.
But the indisputable fact was that he used to have this feeling rather often, whereas now, for the last few years, it was so long, nice knowing you. Gone. Vanished. In fact, nowadays early mornings very often inspired a feeling of refusal in him, a sort of instinctive rejection of what awaited him once he was forced to accept the new day, even if there were no particular hassles awaiting him in the hours ahead. And the proof of this was the way he acted upon emerging from sleep.
Now the moment he raised his eyelids, he immediately lowered them again, remaining in darkness for a few more seconds, whereas before, the moment he opened his eyes, he kept them open, even slightly agape, avidly taking in the light of day.
And this, he thought, is surely because of my age.
But immediately Montalbano Two rebelled against this conclusion.
What’s this about your age? said Montalbano Two. How is it possible that, at fifty-six, you already feel old? You want to know the real truth?
No, said Montalbano One.
Well, I’m going to tell you anyway.You want to feel old because it suits you just fine. Since you’ve grown tired of what you are and what you do, you’ve created this excuse about getting old. But if you really feel that way, why don’t you write a nice letter of resignation right now and call it quits?
And what would I do then?
You would play the old man. Get yourself a dog to keep you company, go out in the morning to buy the newspaper, sit down on a bench, let the dog run free, and start reading the paper, beginning with the death notices.
Why the death notices?
Because whenever you read that someone your age has just died while you’re still fairly alive, you’ll feel a certain satisfaction that’ll help you hang around for at least another twenty-four hours. An hour later—
An hour later you and your dogs can go fuck yourselves, said Montalbano One, chilled by the prospect.
Well, then, get up, go to work, and stop being a pain in the ass, Montalbano Two concluded decisively.
While he was in the shower the telephone rang. He went to answer it completely naked, leaving a stream of water in his wake. Adelina, in any case, would be by later to clean house.
“Chief, whadd I do, wake y’up?”
“No, Cat, I was awake.”
“You sure sure sure ’bout that, Chief ? Yer not jess sayin’ ’at to be nice?”
“No, you needn’t worry. What is it?”
“Chief, what else could it be if I’m callin’ you foist ting in the morning?”
“Cat, do you realize that you never call to give me any good news?”
There was a pause, and then Catarella’s voice became all choked up.
“Ah Chief Chief ! Whyddya say that? You wanna humili tate me? If it was up to me, I’d wake you up every single mornin’ wit’ rilly good news, like, I dunno, like you jess won tirty billions inna lattery, or like you was jess made chief o’ police, or . . .”
Not having heard the door open, the inspector suddenly saw Adelina standing before him, staring at him, keys still in hand. Why had she come so early? Embarrassed, he instinctively turned towards the telephone to hide his privates. Apparently the male backside is considered less shameful than the front. The housekeeper quickly fled into the kitchen.
“Cat, wanna bet I know why you’re calling? A dead man was found somewhere. Am I right?”
“Yes and no, Chief.”
“Where am I wrong?”
“Iss a dead lady, Chief.”
“Listen, isn’t Inspector Augello around?”
“He’s a’ready atta scene o’ the crime, Chief. But the inspector jess called me now sayin’ to call you now, Chief, sayin’ as how iss bitter if you go there, too, Chief, poissonally in poisson.”
“Where was she found?”
“Atta Sarsetto, Chief, roundabout the ’Murcan bridge.”
That was far along the road to Montelusa. And the inspector had no desire to get behind the wheel.
“Send a car over to pick me up.”
“The cars’re all inna garage and can’t go nowheres, Chief.”
“They all broke down at the same time?”
“Nossir, Chief, they’s workin’ all right. But the fack is there’s no more money to buy gasoline. Fazio called Montelusa but they tol’ ’im to be patient ’cause the money’s onna way an’ll be here in a few days, but not much . . . So fer now only the flyin’ squad can drive, an’ Deputy Garruso’s escort.”
“His name is Garrufo, Cat.”
“ ’ Is name is what ’is name is. All ’at matters is you un nastand who I mean, Chief.”
The inspector cursed the saints. The police stations had no gasoline, the courts had no paper, the hospitals had no thermometers, and meanwhile the government was thinking about building a bridge over the Strait of Messina. But there was always plenty of gasoline for the useless escorts of ministers, vice ministers, undersecretaries, committee chairmen, senators, chamber deputies, regional deputies, cabinet chiefs, and underassistant briefcase carriers . . .
“Have you informed the prosecutor, Forensics, and Dr. Pasquano?”
“Yessir. But Dr. Quaspano got rilly rilly pissed off.”
“He says how since he ain’t bibiquitous, he can’t get to the scene for a couple a hours. Chief, could you asplain sumpin a me?”
“Whass bibiquitous mean?”
“It means being in many different and faraway places at the same time. Tell Augello I’m on my way.”
He went into the bathroom and got dressed.
“Coffee’s ready,” Adelina informed him.
As soon as he walked into the kitchen, the housekeeper looked him up and down and said:
“You know you’re still a good-lookin’ man, signore?”
Still? What was that still supposed to mean? Montalbano darkened. But then Montalbano Two immediately appeared.
Oh, no, you don’t! You can’t get pissed off! You’re contradicting yourself, considering that barely an hour ago you felt old and decrepit!
Better change the subject.
“Why’d you come early today?”
“ ’ Cause I gotta catch a bus to Montelusa to go talk to Judge Sommatino.”
He was the judge overseeing the prison where Pasquale, the younger of the housekeeper’s two sons, was being “detained.” Pasqualino was a habitual offender whom Montalbano himself had arrested twice, and for whose firstborn son the inspector had been made godfather at the baptism.
“ ’ Parently the judge is gonna put inna good word so’s he can come a home for house arrest.”
The coffee was good.
“Lemme have another cup, Adelì.”
Since Dr. Pasquano was going to be arriving late, he might as well take his time.
In the days of the Greeks, the Salsetto had been a river. Later, in the days of the Romans, it became a brook, then a rivulet by the time of Italian unification, and later still, in the Fascist era, a stinking little trickle, before finally becoming, with the advent of democracy, an illegal dumping ground. During the Allied invasion in 1943, the Americans built a metal bridge over the now-dried-up riverbed, but one night a few years later the span disappeared, having been entirely dismantled between sunrise and sunset by iron thieves. The spot, however, had retained the name.
The inspector pulled up in a clearing where there were already five police cars, two private vehicles, and the van for transporting corpses to the morgue. The squad cars all belonged to Montelusa Central Police; of the private cars, one belonged to Mimì Augello, the other to Fazio.
“How come in Montelusa they’ve got gasoline up the ass and we don’t have a drop?” the inspector asked himself aloud, feeling annoyed.
He chose not to answer.
Augello came up as soon as he saw him get out of the car.
“Mimì, couldn’t you have scratched your balls by yourself ?”
“Salvo, I’m not going to play your game anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that, if I hadn’t had you come here, later you’d be driving me crazy saying, Why didn’t you tell me this, why didn’t you tell me that . . . ?”
“What’s the corpse like?”
“Dead,” said Augello.
“Mimì, a quip like that is worse than a shot in the back. Fire off another, and I’ll shoot you in self-defense. I’ll ask you again: What’s the corpse like?”
“Young. Barely more than twenty. Possibly foreign. And she must have been beautiful.”
“Have you identified her?”
They walked to the edge of the clearing.
A sort of narrow goat path led down to the dump some thirty feet below. Right at the bottom of the path stood a group of people, among whom the inspector recognized Fazio, the chief of Forensics, and Dr. Pasquano, who was bent over what looked like a mannequin. Prosecutor Tommaseo, on the other hand, was standing in the middle of the path and spotted the inspector.
“Wait, Montalbano, I’ll be right there.”
“What’s going on? Is Pasquano here?” said Montalbano.
Mimì gave him a confused look.
“Why wouldn’t he be here? He got here half an hour ago.”
Apparently the doctor’s blow-up at poor Catarella had all been for show.
Pasquano was famous for having a nasty disposition, and he was very keen on being known as an impossible man. Sometimes he took great pleasure in hamming it up just to maintain his reputation.
“Aren’t you coming down?” asked Tommaseo, panting as he climbed up.
“What for? You’ve already seen her yourself.”
“She must have been very beautiful. Fantastic body,” said the prosecutor, eyes glistening with excitement.
“How was she killed?”
“A bullet to the face from a high-caliber revolver. She’s absolutely unrecognizable.”
“Why do you think it was a revolver?”
“Because the guys from Forensics can’t find the shell.”
“What happened, in your opinion?”
“Why, it’s obvious, my friend! Plain as day! Clearly, the couple pulls up in the clearing, gets out of the car, takes the path down to the dry riverbed, which is more secluded. The girl takes her clothes off and then, after sexual intercourse . . .”—he stopped, licked his lips, and swallowed at the thought of intercourse—“the man shoots her right in the face.”
by Andrea Camilleri / Mystery & Thrillers have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes