For your enjoyment I’m posting my latest mystery which I hope will one day be published. But for now you will have a preview mystery for your holiday reading. Comments are welcome on the blog. This is the first story in the Inspector Mario Regitti series.
Web of Intrigue
By D.G. Heath
Chapter One – Snake in the Grass
Chapter Two – Connecting the Dots
Chapter Three – Revelations and Palpitations
Chapter Four – Sharing Knowledge
Chapter Five – The Web Grows
Chapter Six – People Playing Games
Chapter Seven – Follow the Yachts
Chapter Eight – The Disappearing Act
Chapter Nine – An Ounce of Truth
Chapter Ten – Confessions
Chapter Eleven – Spider in the Web
Chapter One – A Snake in the Grass
Her scream pierced the silent morning air and echoed throughout the villa and across the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean. Carlotta Romero stood on the up-stairs balcony walkway of the bedroom wing overlooking the pool terrace. In the turquoise waters of the pool of the Villa Marquesa she saw the nude male body floating face down, his arms spread to each side as death floated on the surface in the crystal clear morning sunlight. No one else was in sight.
Where are the security guards? She thought as she descended the stone stairs to the terrace. She called out to the servants but there was no response. The main rooms were empty and the front door stood ajar. Some of the furniture had been over-turned. When did the party get that wild? She wondered. Carlotta had slipped out early with a splitting headache and shut herself away in her bedroom.
As she made her way to the kitchen she discovered it too was deserted. The cook and her daughter were nowhere to be found. She reached for the phone in the butler’s pantry and began to dial then suddenly heard a thumping sound. Following the noise she approached the walk-in freezer. She scanned the wall where the key usually hung but the hook was empty. She began to frantically search the counters and noticed the key in the corner on the stone floor.
Quickly she opened the freezer door and out staggered the cook, her daughter and the butler almost frozen with ghostly white skin and blue lips, gasping for air and thankful to be rescued from the clutches of certain death. Stumbling through the French doors and onto the stone terrace in the warmth of the sunshine, they collapsed at one of the tables as Carlotta gathered beach towels from the pool cabana to wrap around them. Eyes wide with surprise, and consumed in a state of shock, they stared at the body in the pool.
Williams, the butler took his cell phone out of his pocket and called the security gate house. He had not been able to summon help because he had no signal while locked in the freezer. Unfortunately, there was no answer. He then called the local police authorities. The body of his employer, the owner of the Villa Marquesa, floated in the pool as they waited on the terrace in the warm morning sun.
Ricardo Orcini, the billionaire container shipping magnate and rare antiquities collector was dead. When inspector Regitti arrived the front gate was still locked. He phoned the butler to gain entry and waited for Williams, to punch in the code on the electronic key pad in the kitchen. The bodies of two security guards were discovered in the gate house. As the Emergency Medical Personnel removed Orcini’s body from the pool and into a black body bag to be taken to the medical examiner, Mario Regetti moved everyone inside for questioning.
Carlotta, still dressed in a flowing sapphire blue chiffon robe over a revealing negligee with matching silk slippers, did not go unnoticed by inspector Regetti, she hadn’t thought to change before anyone arrived. The cook Anna and her daughter Rosie lived in private casita at the north end of the villa property, in a separate building above Mr. Williams. The three live-in servants maintained the villa with little or no help unless there was a major party such as the night before when additional staff was hired from the surrounding area. Two cleaning maids worked four days a week.
Carlotta Romero, a popular Italian singer and long time friend of Ricardo Orcini’s was a frequent guest at the villa and had been invited to entertain his friends at this special event to celebrate his acquisition of five pre-Columbian artifacts recently acquired for his collection. News papers in Rome and Naples had announced the gala unveiling party at the villa including a list of celebrities, important guests and photos of the priceless large jade and gold death mask, a necklace with jade and lapis beads, a neck collar of 24 carat gold, two gold cuff bracelets decorated with ancient markings and a magnificent ceremonial knife of carved jade and black obsidian.
The inspector’s team of officers and forensic specialist began swarming through the house like a din of ants to capture any evidence that might be needed. In his ten years on the force he had never been inside the Villa Marquesa and was admiring the architecture and Italianate décor. Rob motioned him to the door of the library. As he peered into the room he saw what the detective wanted to show him.
A glass case in the center of the room had been shattered and the items that it had once held were gone. Broken glass lay on the marble floor beneath the ornate case with gold trim. He strode to the pool terrace where the suspects were gathered and surveyed the scene as his team worked to remove the body from the pool.
He approached the table where his four suspects were seated. “Good morning. I’m inspector Regitti. I suggest that you join me in the dining room so our people can do their work out here without disturbance.” He turned and moved inside as the four of them followed.
“Inspector, I apologize the gate was locked, but we have not been able to locate the security guards this morning.” Williams offered as they entered the dining room.
“I’m not surprised.” the inspector said. “I’ll explain that in a moment. But first I have a few questions.” As the small group seated themselves around the large mahogany dining table, Inspector Regetti began his investigation. “This is my partner Roberto Rossi, he will be taking notes. We’ll begin with a few questions – any statements you make will be taken down and added to your depositions. Now – Who was first to find the body of Mr. Orcini?”
“I suppose it was me.” Carlotta said, still wiping tears from her eyes. “I awoke early. Ricardo and I usually take a morning swim. I was coming down to join him for breakfast when I stepped onto the balcony walkway of the bedroom wing and glance down at the terrace. There he was, floating face down in the pool. It appeared he had drowned and I screamed…but no one came.”
“And what time was this?”
“I would guess around seven o’clock, I wasn’t wearing a watch.”
“Does Mr. Orcini often swim in the nude?” he questioned.
Carlotta hesitated a second before answering. “Yes, we both do.” The inspector raised his eyebrows. The lives of the wealthy and influential residents on the Isle of Capri never ceased to amaze him. But visualizing Carlotta in the nude was an intriguing thought. She was indeed an attractive woman with turquoise blue eyes and long wavy auburn hair tumbling over one shoulder of her sleek curvaceous figure. It was enough to make any runway model jealous.
She continued as she took a sip of coffee, “I hurried down the outside staircase and wander into the house trying to find someone to help but the house was empty. I notice that some chairs had been knocked over. When I got to the kitchen I heard a thumping sound coming from the walk-in freezer. The key was missing from the hook on the wall, but I found it in the corner on the floor and opened the door. Williams, Anna and Rosie were almost frozen to death – and might well have been if I had slept any longer. The security guards must have fallen asleep.”
“I’m afraid not. It appears that both of them were shot. Their bodies have been removed to the morgue for further investigation. By chance, did any of you hear the shots?” The announcement having rendered them speechless, the four of them looked at each other and shook their heads in unison. “Whoever planned the robbery must have used silencers on their guns.” He added.
“Excuse me inspector, but what robbery are you speaking of?” asked Williams, still in a daze.
“You’ve obviously not discovered the empty broken glass display case in the library?” Regetti said.
“Inspector, I have only moved from the terrace to this chair since we were rescued from the freezer this morning. I didn’t wish to contaminate anything to do with your investigation. Can you please explain what robbery you have discovered?”
Mario hated dealing with the pompous English butlers that now worked for so many of the local wealthy residents. They had an air about them that rubbed him the wrong way. “It appears Mr. Orcini’s much touted showing of the newly arrived pre-Columbian artifacts for his collection drew the attention of the wrong people. The five new pieces that were on display in the glass case are now missing. I don’t suppose you would have any idea as to where we might find them?” he said to Williams accusingly.
“I beg your pardon inspector!”
“Oh never mind.”
He checked his notes and glanced at the cook. “Now Anna – that is your name, correct?”
“Yes sir.” She said with teary eyes and a dripping nose.
“Tell me what you remember about this morning’s events.”
“Well,” she said, her eyes shifting to the butler as if to get his approval. “My daughter and I came into the kitchen early around 6:00 am to finish cleaning up and get breakfast started. We had left for our quarters around midnight. Rosie found Mr. Williams on the floor of the dining room and helped him into the kitchen. He had a nasty bump on his head. Then suddenly a man, wearing a ski mask, appeared in the doorway holding a gun and forced the three of us into the freezer and locked it. The freezer door doesn’t open from the inside when locked and we couldn’t get out.” She sobbed clutching the folds of her apron. “I thought we were all going to die.”
“So…Mr. Williams,” Rob eyed the butler as he made his notes. “You were hit on the head?”
“Yes detective Rossi. I heard a noise in the library. I thought it might be one of our guests still lingering and started to investigate but was hit on the head from behind and blacked-out.”
“Why didn’t you mention this before?” Rossi questioned, wondering why the butler had not been shot like the guards.
Williams stammered, “Well…the cold of the freezer must have taken the soreness away from my head and I simply forgot. When you are facing death’s door inspector you forget things like that” he said looking at Mario and not Rob.
The inspector was reading his facial expressions and body language. “Was there anything else you forgot?”
“I remember the noise I heard was glass breaking and thought it was a wine or Champagne glass that someone had dropped. But after that I have no recollection until Maria helped me into the kitchen and we were shoved into the freezer.”
“Inspector Regitti, Carlotta chimed in… Do you mind if I get dressed, I have a ferry to catch back to Naples?” Why was Carlotta in such a hurry to disappear? Yes…she had shed a few crocodile tears for her friend and lover but her sentimentality had vanished in the blink of an eye.
“You may change your clothes, but no one is going anywhere until we have fingerprinted, photographed everyone and taken your full statements at the station. A car will be here shortly to take you in for additional questioning and recorded depositions. You’ll be told when you can leave the island, but I wouldn’t expect it to be anytime soon. Meanwhile you’ll have to make yourself comfortable here at the villa.”
“So – are we all suspected of murdering the guards and robbing the family jewels?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, but anyone who was in this house last night is a suspect and according to Italian law – all are guilty until proven innocent.”
Gathering her robe around her, Carlotta stormed out of the dining room with an attitude of resentment, causing Mario to wonder how shallow her relationship with Orcini had been.
“Williams, I want the names of all guests who attended the party last night. We already have some from the newspapers, but a complete list will be needed. The office will notify the immediate next-of-kin once the forensic pathologist has determined the cause of death. We’ll question guests staying at the hotels in town before they have a chance to leave the island today. Were any family members here at the villa last night?”
“No inspector.” Rosie gave him an inquiring look. “Ms. Romero was the only guest in residence, but did I hear you correctly only two guards were found shot?”
“Yes…that’s correct. Why?”
“Then I wonder what became of the third guard stationed in the library to protect the artifacts?” Williams said in a low tone.
“Well Mr. Williams, it appears your memory is improving by the minute. We are still searching the grounds, but I will need all the information you have on this extra guard when you get to the station. I’m sure you screened him properly but perhaps we will find some fingerprints in the library to help.”
Williams gave the appearance of regretting his mention of the extra guard. “His credentials were excellent.” he said in defense. “He had worked with the British Museum, the Cairo Museum and the National Museum of Alexandria.”
“Or they might have been faked.” Mario noted. “Now… if you will gather the information requested, the cars are waiting.”
Regitti turned to his partner Roberto whose wife, Margaret Rossi, just happened to be the forensic pathologist on Capri. “Rob, be sure the crew combs every inch of the property. There could be another body hidden somewhere and let me know when Margaret’s autopsy report is ready.”
The mid-July weather had begun to warm and the site of Carlotta in her yellow silk dress with matching stiletto heels and a small handbag, striding across the polished black and white marble floors of the villa made it even hotter for inspector Regitti. “Your chariot awaits Ms. Romano.”
“Oh, get over it inspector. I grew up in the slums of Naples, and a police car is not a chariot.” she huffed in passing. “I hope this won’t take long. I haven’t had time for breakfast.”
“You’re all heart Ms. Romero.”
Regitti flushed crimson as her glance put him in his place. The aroma of her Armani perfume captured his senses as she glided past and he was at a loss to offer further comment. Anna, Rosie and Williams slipped into a second squad car and the inspector followed in his blue Fiat leaving the forensic group to finish their work and his tall handsome partner Roberto to follow through with the inspection.
Chapter Two – Connecting the Dots
The police station in Capri town at the top of the hill on the Via Roma was bustling with action when he arrived. The press corps had already gathered in full force as word of the murders at the villa had spread, hoping for photographs and statements from the celebrities and wealthy people as they appeared for their depositions. The interviews had already begun. Mario’s cell buzzed as he parked his car. “Hey Rob, what’s up?”
“INTERPOL.” was the word from the other end of the line.
“Jesus!” Mario exclaimed. “They don’t waste any time do they?”
“International people draw international attention and the press is hanging on the front gate like a bunch of monkeys. News spreads like liquid fire when you don’t want it to. What do you want me to do?”
“Cooperate of course, that’s what we are supposed to do, but be selective with your information and for Christ sake, don’t mention anything about the third guard. Is there any news on that front?”
“Nothing as yet, but I’ll make nice and see what they might have to help us.”
“Good man. Let me know when you’re finished and we’ll grab a pizza at the marina this evening. Right now I have to shove through the barrage of reporters here at the station.”
“Inspector Mario!” sounded a shout as he interred the station. Following the direction of the voice his eyes fell on Marcus Antonio of INTERPOL. Marcus, or Tony, as everyone called him was a tall greasy character with a thick black mustache, receding hairline and ears sticking out like handles on a large kettle.
“Tony, my friend, what brings you to our fair island?”
“As if you didn’t already know…INTERPOL received a report this morning about the murder of Ricardo Orcini.”
“Murder you say? That’s strange… I didn’t know they had released the autopsy report so soon.”
“It arrived at 11:00 am and I took the first ferry over. A most unusual death I must say. Where have you been?”
“Covering the scene of the crime at the villa and questioning four of the suspects. They’re here now giving their recorded depositions.”
Carlotta was the first to immerge from the recording rooms and Marcus’s eye lit up. “Is that who I think it is?”
“Down boy…she’s had a rough morning. She found the body and rescued the other three from the freezer. I don’t think she has much else to offer at the moment. Give her a little time and we will see if she can remember anything else that happened at the party last night. You can read her report later and I’ll fill you in on the details in my report.”
Mario greeted Carlotta. “Ms. Romero. Your car is waiting to take you back to the villa if you are ready. Detective Rossi is still there so you should be fine. We’ll place a guard at the gate tonight.”
“After a theft, two murders and a drowning is that suppose to make me feel safe inspector?”
“We will do the best we can. May I introduce chief inspector Marcus Antonio of INTERPOL…Ms. Carlotta Romero.” Tony nodded in greeting and extended his hand which was not taken.
“Charmed, I’m sure.” She crooned in her best English. It’s good to know this has reached the international level and will soon be resolved. Good day gentlemen.” Smiling and posing for photos, she stepped into the backseat of the police car and was driven off.
Tony shook his head and whistled under his breath. “Doesn’t sound like you made a good impression Regitti.”
“I wasn’t there to impress. Just doing the job I’m paid for.”
“Have you had lunch yet?” Having lunch with Tony would be like eating with a greased pig and the last thing Mario wanted to do.
“No I’m waiting to see the butler, Williams, when he’s finished. He was going to supply a full list of the guests last night. By-the-way…if it wasn’t drowning, then how was the murder committed?”
“Oh…poison dart. I thought you knew. He was struck in the back of the neck and fell into the pool making it appear he had drowned. I’ll see what else forensics has to offer after lunch. And I’ll need a list of those guests. INTREPOL is checking now with the various hotels but some might have stayed with friends on the island. Good luck with the butler. Why do you always suspect them?”
“Because…they’re usually guilty, chief,” he said with a chuckle, as Tony smiled and shook his head.
Williams appeared drenched in sweat, looking like he had been drug through the arena at the coliseum. He handed the extra guard’s information and guest list to Mario then sat on the bench to wait for Anna and Rosie.
“I see you’ve only been employed by Mr. Orcini for about a year. Do you mind telling me who your former employer was?”
“Not at all. I was under-butler for his Lordship Charles Marquis of Menton Abbey in Kent, England.”
“I see. Didn’t he and the Countess attend the party last night?” Mario asked as he continued to scan the list.
“That’s correct inspector. They’re staying at the Capri Palace Hotel for a long weekend.”
Mario was good at squeezing information out of people in a casual manner. “I seem to recall that he’s a great hunter and spends a lot of time in the jungles of South Africa and on safaris.”
“Oh yes. There are numerous animal heads and skins decorating the abbey walls and floors.”
“Did he ever hunt with a blowgun and dart?” He asked as he watched Williams’ reaction.
“Only in New Guinea sir, not South Africa, but he didn’t appear to enjoy the sport that much.” Williams began to fidget. “Strange that you should ask.”
“I see…thank you Williams…here comes Anna and Rosie now. I’ll call to be sure they haven’t locked the gate. But then… you know the code don’t you? Your car is waiting.”
“You don’t think they will return to the scene of the crime do you sir?” Anna pleaded.
“I believe they got what they came after last night Anna, but there will be a police guard at the villa tonight to be sure. Try and get some rest, you’ve been through a lot today.”
He picked up the phone on the desk and dialed, “Rossi – Mario. Everyone is on the way back. I’ve got the report on the autopsy. You probably heard from Margaret…poison dart to the neck. Anything else to report?”
“Yes. I have a surprise I think you’ll find interesting.”
“Now you’ve got my curiosity going. Be sure to post a guard at the gate when you leave. I’ll see you at the marina café around seven for pizza dinner. I have a few surprises myself.”
He glanced at the clock on the wall. It was still an hour earlier in England so he placed a call to the British Museum in London.
“British Museum – this is Emily Dickenson, how may I direct your call?”
“You must be kidding me.” He choked.
“No sir – I am not – this is Emily Dickson at the British Museum in London. Do you have the correct number?”
She sounded like an elderly, prim and proper librarian. “Yes, can you put me through to someone in the antiquities department – preferably a person familiar with appraising ancient artifacts?”
“One moment please.” He was put on hold as he tapped his pencil eraser like a drum stick on his desk and waited.
“This is Joyce Cambridge in antiquities. How may I assist you?”
He introduced himself and explained that he wanted to speak with someone about appraising some ancient artifacts.
“I’m sorry inspector. We are in such a muddle today. We just finished packing up an exhibit on loan from the National Archaeological Museum of Florence. Let me see who is available that might be able to help you. Oh…and I must say, we were so surprised to learn about Mr. Orcini’s death and the robbery.”
“Yes…it was a shock to those of us here as well.” His pencil lead broke and he stuck it in the electric sharpener on his desk as he waited. Another voice came on the line.
“Kathy Stockton here – how can I be of service?”
“Mrs. Stockton, this is inspector Mario Regitti of the homicide squad in the police department on Capri.” He explained as much as he felt necessary about the murder of Ricardo Orcici, the theft of the artifacts and what little they knew of their value or place of origin. “We’ve not been able to find information on these pieces in his files. I suspect that may also have been stolen. I was hoping to send some photos to you and perhaps you could help us determine their value and origin. By-the-way you don’t sound very British.”
She chuckled. “Sorry inspector, but I hear that a lot. I work for the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. But I was born and raised in Colorado and travel around to assist in various museums all over the world where needed. It’s actually Ms. Stockton but you can call me Kathy. Although necessary at times, I detest formalities. We heard about the theft in Capri and poor Mr. Orcini. News travels fast in the world of art. However, I must say, you have piqued my interest.”
“Does that mean you will think about helping us?”
“It’s been many years since I visited Capri and I’m due for a vacation. Why don’t I make arrangements to fly down and see if I can assist?”
“I’m afraid it wouldn’t be much of a vacation.” Mario added.
“Inspector… I live and breathe art and antiquities but I’m sure I will find time to relax and play while on Capri. I’ll call you with my scheduled arrival time once I have it set. I’ll stay at the Capri Palace on the hill if they have availability.”
“I’ll be happy to meet you at the marina and can’t tell you how much I appreciate your assistance.” He offered sincerely.
“It’s my pleasure and I look forward to having dinner with you when I arrive.”
For once he felt he had the jump on Marcus Antonio and INTERPOL. Now to find out what secret surprise Roberto would produce at dinner. He headed home to shower and change for the evening. His cell rang while he was in the hot shower and Kathy had left a message. She would arrive on the 7pm ferry the next day. “Look for a tall blonde with a green floral print dress and a pink scarf around her neck.” Her message said. This was sounding better all the time.
Mario arrived at the café early and ordered a bottle of Sangiovese red wine with a hint of leather, figs and dried red fruits – a perfect wine to have with pizza. He sifted through his papers while waiting for Roberto and studied closer the profile report on Williams, the butler.
Rob arrived on time. “Same table as usual. Do you just like being in this corner or won’t they let you sit out there with the real people?” he joked.
Mario looked up with a smirk of disgust. “Nix the smart comments and have a seat detective while you enlighten my curiosity with your discoveries.” He poured the other glass of wine and refilled his own. “But before you do…did you notice any changes in Carlotta on her return to the villa?”
“Actually she appeared upset and nervous. She went straight to her room and had Anna take her a lunch tray and a bottle of wine. I didn’t see her again before I left. How did you know?”
“Instinct… So what’s the big surprise?” The waiter appeared and took their order then quickly vanished again.
“First, Toni from INTERPOL arrived and told me Orcini had been shot with a poison dart. I already knew about the dart…Margaret called me when she found the bruise on the back of his neck. The dart had been removed. He may have pulled it out and it could still be at the bottom of the pool. I didn’t have time to call you before INTERPOL arrived on the scene.” The inspector nodded with patience indicating he had already read the report in his stack of papers. “Oh, sorry, of course you would have the report.”
A Cheshire cat smile spread across Rob’s face. “I found something unusual in the maid’s broom closet off the butler’s pantry while the guys were combing the grounds for the missing guard. Have you ever seen a blowgun?”
Mario’s eyes lit up. “Are you telling me you found the murder weapon?”
“Well at least part of it. I didn’t find any darts or poison, but the blowgun was tucked away in the back corner of a kitchen closet looking like any other broom handle…but I noticed it was made of bamboo. I dropped it off at the labs so Margaret could dust it for prints. If there’s a match, we may soon know the identity of the killer.”
“Does Tony know about this find?”
“I didn’t see any point in telling him until we had a chance to dust it. The lab didn’t’ get it until after 6 pm and he had already returned to Naples on the five o’clock ferry. Margaret’s working late and said she would hold off sending INTERPOL the results until we checked in tomorrow morning.”
“Margaret is a wonderful woman Rob. I’m so glad you married her. It pays to have connections.”
“Those connections never entered my mind when I said – I do. There were many other connections, but never those.” He grinned.
“Ahumm,” Mario cleared his throat, “Sorry…but to change the subject, I’ve invited a specialist antiquities appraiser from the Metropolitan Museum in New York to join us tomorrow in determining the value of the stolen artifacts. I believe we need an expert’s opinion to know what we are dealing with. I’m having doubts about the motive in this case.”
Rob emptied the wine bottle and ordered another of the same as the waiter delivered their large crispy crust pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms, and Kalamata olives smothered in parmesan cheese. “Coming from New York, I doubt she will be here by tomorrow.”
“Who?” Mario said as he stuffed his mouth with a slice of hot pizza.
“Your specialist, that’s who?” said Rob as he picked the pepperoni off his slice of pizza and shoved it between his lips – he doesn’t eat meat.
“Sorry old man. She’s coming from London. She just finished an exhibition at the British Museum and is taking a vacation on Capri at my request. We’re having dinner together at the hotel tomorrow evening.”
“That’s too bad. Margaret wanted me to invite you for dinner tomorrow…but if you’re stuck with some old bag from the museum, we’ll have to make it another time.”
Chuckling to himself, Mario shoved a stack of papers across the table to Rob. “Here’s your copy of the depositions today. Read through them. Sleep on it and we’ll see what matches up tomorrow. INTERPOL told all the guests that had left the party before the estimated time of Orcini’s death, they were free to leave the island after their depositions were recorded. Set those little brain cells in motion. Tell Margaret I’ll take a rain-check on the dinner, and give her a hug from me. Ask her to hide the blowgun findings as long as she can from Tony. I’m meeting with his Lordship Charles Marquis in the hotel lounge after dinner tonight. He was at the villa party and would you believe, he’s hunted with a blowgun in New Guiney.” Robs mouth dropped in surprise.
“I feel like a marionette whose strings are being pulled in multiple directions at the same time,” Mario continued. “Orcini’s two sons have been notified and should be arriving soon. Get their depositions from INTERPOL and find out where they were the night of the party. Whoever is involved in this crime is either very close or very far away by now. And I don’t believe Tony when he says ‘the butler didn’t do it.’ I’ll wager ten to one, if he didn’t, he had a hand in it somehow.”
Rob stood to leave. “Thanks for the dinner – I owe you one.”
“What’s the rush? You haven’t finished your wine.”
“Gotta pick Margaret up at the lab so she can feed the kids before they go to bed. Oh by-the-way, I borrowed the coffee cups from the villa this morning to see if we could get any DNA samples to match the mouth piece on the weapon. It was Margaret’s suggestion. See you tomorrow boss.”
“I’m not your boss…Margaret is. Sleep well man.”
Chapter Three – Revelations and Palpitations
Winding his way through the narrow streets under the canopy of evergreen cypress trees, Mario zipped up the hill in his little blue Fiat from the marina to the plush Capri Palace Hotel and Spa on the Via Capodimonte in Anacapri. The valet parking attendant greeted him, “Good evening inspector. Will you be dining at the hotel tonight?”
“No Alex. I’m just here for a short meeting with one of your guests. Were you on duty last night?”
“Yes sir…until 4 am this morning.” He handed him a parking stub.
“Do you know who Lord Charles Marquis is?
“Oh yes sir. He’s stays here at least once a year. I believe he attended the party at the Villa Marquesa.”
“Do you recall what time he and the Countess returned to the hotel last night?”
“Her Ladyship returned by taxi around eleven-thirty but Lord Marquis wasn’t with her. I didn’t see him come in but he could have arrived while I was on break. I’ll check with Skipper and let you know, we worked the shift together.”
“Thanks Alex. He tossed him the car keys. Keep her close, I won’t be long.”
The contemporary design of the sleek white-on-white interior enveloped him as he moved through the reception area and stark contemporary lobby. The spacious lounge with subdued shades of gray and beige was a little more inviting. He spotted Lord Marquis seated with Lady Marquis and made for their table.
“Good evening. I’m inspector Regitti of the Capri police force.”
Lady Marquis stood. “I hope you will excuse me inspector, I was just leaving and I don’t usually join my husband’s business meetings. I’ll say good night.” She moved smoothly and was suddenly gone before he had a chance to make further conversation.
He turned his head to Lord Marquis, “Was it my aftershave or did I say something wrong?”
Lord Marquis chuckled, “Heavens no inspector…she had another of her headaches and was just leaving to turn in early. Please be seated.” The music from the piano in the lounge was bouncing on the hard surfaces of the huge stone columns and limestone floors and a group of senior-citizen tourist were singing favorite old songs from the thirties and forties accompanied by the pianist…just the kind of music they enjoy.
“Would you mind if we moved to the terrace where there’s a little less distraction your Lordship?”
They settled at a table to the far end of the terrace with a moonlight view of the lights across the Bay of Naples and the Island of Ischia in the distance. A waiter quickly appeared. “Would you care for a drink inspector?” Lord Marquis asked as he settled in.
“Thank you but I’ll pass.”
“I’ll have the usual Peter.” He turned to Mario, “So…inspector…how may I be of assistance?”
“I was wondering if you might have noticed anything unusual at the event last night…anything that seemed out of place or any suspicious people. I’m sure you knew most of the guests that attended.”
“Strange that you should ask…there was one chap that I have seen before but I can’t place where. He wasn’t drinking and seemed to move around the library mingling here and there with the lesser elite. He could have been a guard and perhaps that’s why I remember his face. We attend so many of these functions they all start to look alike.”
“May I ask what time you left the party?”
“Elizabeth had another headache and left before 11:30 pm. I followed her in a separate taxi around midnight. I had some business to take care of and she does not have a head for business.”
“I see. Were you surprised to see your former butler working for Mr. Orcini?”
“Not really…I recommended him to Ricardo while on a hunting trip in New Guinea. He had accompanied me as my valet. Elizabeth never really liked him so we hired someone she interviewed. After all, she does run the house at Menton Abbey.” It is common knowledge that many of the English gentry marry women of wealth for a reason. They have the title and the land and the women have the money to keep it all together.
Mario contemplated his next question about the blowgun but decided to wait until the finger prints could be established. “I assume you were interviewed by INTERPOL this morning.”
“Oh yes. Mr. Anthony fingerprinted both of us and conducted a thorough investigation with other guest here at the hotel. A bit embarrassing I must say. But I’m surprised he didn’t ask some of the questions you’ve presented this evening. That’s why I agreed to meet with you. Some people go by the rules – all pomp and circumstance. However, I think you might have a better grasp of the situation.”
“Thank you your Lordship…and now I will say goodnight.”
“Goodnight inspector. We will be leaving around noon tomorrow should you think of any further questions.”
Mario handed him a card. “I appreciate your help and should you think of anything else please give me a call.”
“Will do inspector…always happy to help. I’m a bit of a sleuth myself.” He said.
The blue Fiat was waiting at the front of the hotel with Alex standing next to it. “I checked with Skipper and his Lordship returned to the hotel around 2:00 am while I was on break. Hope that helps.” It did indeed. Where was his Lordship between midnight and 2:00 am?
He handed Alex a big tip. “Keep up the good work kid. I can always depend on you.” He opened the door and stepped back as Mario slipped into the driver’s seat.
He was ready to call it a night but had one more phone call he wanted to make. He punched in Carlotta’s cell phone number. “Who the hell are you trying to call? And why are you bothering me?”
“Carlotta. It’s Mario.”
“Oh thank god. Some nutcase has been calling my cell all afternoon and it’s driving me crazy. How in god’s name did you get my cell number?”
“You gave it to us during your interview this morning. We have to be able to contact people when necessary. Do you have the number that’s been calling you handy?”
“I’ve had six calls, all from different pay phones on the island. The numbers all started with the same three digits they use for the pay phones here, and one came from a disposable cell phone, no answer on call back – out of service and no location. I’m frightened.”
“Turn your cell off and don’t touch it until tomorrow morning. Get some rest. The place is guarded.”
“Like hell it is. It was guarded last night, but that didn’t stop the murders. I’m moving out tomorrow and checking into a hotel in town.”
“You’re free to do that but don’t leave the island just yet and let me know where you will be staying. That’s not a request. It’s an order and a requirement.”
Carlotta disconnected the call without a response and phoned the Capri Palace Hotel for a reservation. Some relaxation at the spa would be welcome and having more people around would cheer her spirits and make her feel safer.
Mario was waiting in front of the forensic labs early the next morning, when Margaret and Rob arrived. He was anxious for the fingerprint report on the blowgun. Margaret greeted him. “It will take me a moment to get things set-up for you. We had to pick up the kids and I didn’t quite finish last night. Would you like a cup of coffee?
“Sure…that would be great.”
Rob was curious about Mario’s meeting at the hotel with Lord Marquis. “Were you able to squeeze anything new out of your friend his Lordship last night? I thought INTERPOL had a full briefing with them. Tony said he gave them permission to return to England.”
Shaking his head as he sugared his coffee, Mario explained his additional questioning and the difference in the Lord and Lady’s arrivals times back at the hotel. The coroner had estimated the time of Mr. Orcini’s death to be between 2:00 am and 5:00 am. His body being in the water makes it difficult to be more precise. The discrepancy in the times shown in the report had caused him to suspect that his Lordship was attempting to hide something, but he wasn’t ready to follow that lead just yet.
Margaret appeared in the doorway to the lab. “Hold on to your hats. We have three sets of prints from the blowgun. Two have been identified as belonging to Lord Charles Marquis and David Williams, the butler. The third set is rather smeared. They may not be of use to us. However, the small traces of fresh poison still in the dart chamber matched the poison in Mr. Orcini’s body. I would safely say it was the murder weapon. I’m also checking for DNA on the mouth piece but that will take some time it has to be sent to Naples. We don’t have the facilities here to do it.”
Mario asked Margaret to keep that information under lock and key unless INTERPOL got wind of it. He and Rob left for the hotel to further question Lord Marquis. He received a call from his office that Adam Orcini had arrived in the marina, headed for the Villa Marquesa and wanted him to call as soon as possible. “Ah…the vultures begin to arrive. I wondered how long it would take for them to start circling.” Adam had been in Cypress on vacation according to Tony from INTERPOL and Matteo Orcini, the older son, was conveniently on business in Barcelona. “I thought it strange that none of the immediate family attended the party – Any idea why they weren’t there?”
“Who? Me?” Rob said.
“Well…I’m not talking to the thin air for my health detective.”
“Maybe they wanted to create an alibi for their absence. I’ve heard the family has had their disagreements and legal issues, but that’s no secret. Everyone on the island knows what a playboy and gambler young Adam is, and Fabio wants to rule the empire without the pressure of his father’s thumb on him. They’ve had disagreements on several issues. I’m sure he’ll be arriving soon to take charge of things. I believe the lawyer was waiting for them to arrive for the reading of the will. That will probable stir up the hornet’s nest.” Rob was full of information that Mario found interesting. He may give the appearance of being a bit of an oaf, but deep down his brain worked like a well oiled machine. He had a photographic memory for the smallest details.
Mario phoned Adam and filled him in on their investigation with a suggestion for him to contact Marcus Antonio at INTERPOL for any follow up information. He asked if Carlotta had left the villa for the hotel. “She departed in a huff this morning, and to be frank, what that woman does is none of my business. Her meal ticket has been punched out.” What a strange way to phrase the death of his father. It didn’t go unnoticed by Mario’s calculations.
Lord Marquis and Lady Marquis had checked out of the hotel but were having lunch on the terrace before leaving for the marina. She excused herself to say farewell to some friends while Mario and Rob met with his Lordship. “I was about to phone you inspector. I finally remember where I saw the chap I mentioned last night. He was a guide on our hunting party in New Guinea two years ago and instructed us in how to use the blowgun. Lord-help-us if we sucked rather than blew. Those little darts are very light weight and tipped with a deadly poison.”
“That’s an interesting observation your Lordship. Do you by chance own a blowgun as a souvenir of your hunt?”
“Oh mercy no… I hate to admit it but I was not skilled at that form of hunting, but Williams, my under butler and valet at the time was surprisingly good at it. He could shoot a bird out of a tree. Orcini and I were more adapt with the rifles.”
“Did either of his sons join you on this hunting trip?”
“They were both there, but Adam doesn’t enjoy hunting. The heat gets to him and the bar never has enough scotch and ice. Fabio was only with us for three days and returned to Naples on business. He’s not much when it comes to stalking…too noisy if you get my drift. However, inspector, I have a question for you. If someone were going to rob Orcini’s antiquities, don’t you think they would want the more valuable pieces he keeps locked away in his secure underground safe?”
“That’s an interesting observation your Lordship. The thought had crossed my mind and I’m sure it will be investigate further. Thank you for your help and have a pleasant journey back to London.” Lady Marqius had returned and was ready to leave.
She offered her hand. “Farewell inspector. If we should meet again, I trust it will be under more pleasurable circumstances.” She headed for the entrance and her waiting taxi before he had a chance to reply. Lord Marquis apologized and quickly followed in her footsteps to the waiting hotel taxi.
Rob chuckled “I wouldn’t want to be married to that old bag no matter how much money she had.” Mario just smiled.
His eyes scanned the dining terrace and he spotted Carlotta in an off the shoulder tangerine silk blouse and skin tight white pants enjoying her salad for lunch. She stiffened as he approached. “Don’t you ever leave people alone to enjoy some peace and quiet?”
“My apologies. I just wanted to be sure you are comfortable.”
“I am, now that they are gone. Charles is likable enough but Elizabeth is a real snob. Too bad she’s the one with the money. I could get used to living in England. Have you anything further to report inspector or did you just come over here to annoy me? I see that Adam has found his way home. The bar at the villa will soon be empty. Now all we need is Fabio here to take charge and let the battles begin.”
Mario gave her an inquisitive look, said goodbye and joined Rob at the entrance. Carlotta had just said a mouthful and he needed time to digest it. They zipped their way around the hairpin turns as they descended the hill to the marina.
Taking a table at Café Lo Zodiaco , they were having lunch when Gorgio Conti, Orcini’s lawyer, arrived to meet Fabio at the ferry building and drive him out to the villa. Seeing the two detectives at the café he approached their table. “Glad I caught you inspector. We are going to read Mr. Orcini’s will after dinner at the villa this evening and I wondered if you would want to be present.
“I’m sorry… but I’m not a family member and already have other plans this evening. If there are any issues that require our attention, I’m sure you will let us know. Since you help Mr. Orcini construct the will, might I inquire if his butler Williams was mentioned?”
“Actually he is, as well as Carlotta Romero. They will both be there tonight along with Adam, Fabio and Marcus Antonio of INTERPOL.
The hornet’s nest is about to stir and with Tony there – it is best if he is not. Questions could arise that he wouldn’t want to answer just yet and his dinner date with Ms. Stockton could shed some light on the value of the stolen artifacts.
Mario and Rob spent the afternoon questioning neighbors and local vendors near the villa to see if anyone had noticed any suspicious characters nearby or anything unusual, out of place or not normal in the area. No luck.
It was after five when he returned to his condo to shave, change clothes and make it to the marina. He stood waiting for the seven o’clock ferry to arrive as he fussed with his tie and jacket hoping to make a good first impression. He smoothed his wavy black hair with his hand as he paced the dock looking over the blue waters to the gold and pinks of the setting sun. It would be a perfect evening on the dining terrace at the hotel. Kathy had made her reservation at the Capri Palace Hotel and Spa. She had stayed there on previous occasions and was able to secure a junior suite.
The ferry docked and he searched the crowd of visitors leaving the ship. The sun peeked from behind the clouds and shined on a gorgeous woman’s short wavy blonde hair. She was wearing a soft green floral print dress and a pink scarf draped from her elegant neck. He purred like a lion waiting for his prey. He stood as tall as he could and hurried to meet her.
“Ms. Stockton, I’m inspector Mario Regetti.” Her smile melted his beating heart as she shook his hand.
“It’s a pleasuer to meet you Mario. You look just like I thought you would. I’ll need to collect my luggage and we can be on our way.”
“Welcome to Capri. I hope you had a smooth trip down.” He was fumbling for words and sounded like a school boy. That was not like him. “You will probably want to freshen up before dinner. Our reservation is for 8:00 pm. I was hoping to catch the last of the sunset from the terrace restaurant.”
“No need to freshen up. I’m starved. They can take my bags to the room once I check -in and we can work our way to the terrace for a cocktail and the sunset.” Kathy didn’t want to miss anything with her handsome date this evening.
Over cocktails while watching the subtle color changes from shimmering gold and bright pinks to the more subdued mauve, lavender and deep purple in the evening sky. The clouds receded to the west as the sun disappeared and stars began to twinkle like the lights of Naples in the distance. They took the opportunity over dinner to get better acquainted. Kathy revealed how she was a country girl from the mid-west who loved to ride horses on the open range, but had found her place in the art and antiquities world through her schooling and the desire to explore the culture and art of ancient civilizations. Mario sat entranced as she spoke.
She waved her hand in front of his face to break the stare of his piercing blue eyes. “Hello…is there anyone in there?” she said. “I asked if you would like a night cap or a cappuccino.” Their waiter was standing by the table waiting patiently. “Where have you been for the last ten minutes?”
His left arm rested horizontal on the table while his right hand with elbow on the table cradled his face. “I have been drawn into the magical beauty of the person sitting at this table with me and have come to the conclusion there is nothing on this island that can compare.” Kathy blushed and rolled her eyes at the waiter.
“I’ll have a double cappuccino, but maybe we should cut him off for the night.” She giggled.
“Oh…now see… you broke the spell. I’ll have an espresso with a shot of cognac on the side.” The waiter scurried off. “And now that I have fallen back to earth, do you mind if we talk business for a moment? I need to get your opinion on the artifacts if that is possible to do from the photographs I brought with me.” He reached for the photos in his jacket pocket.
She produced a small pen flashlight from her purse. “The lighting isn’t the best out here but I’ll try. Are these your only photos of the stolen items?” she inquired as she peered through the glasses she had placed on her nose.
Mario looked astonished. “You never mentioned you wear glasses.” he said.
“I do when it comes to examining artifacts. There are so many small details one could miss with the naked eye. But you didn’t answer my question. Are these the only photos?”
“They’re the only ones we could find in Mr. Orcini’s files.” The waiter delivered their beverages and they sipped the hot coffees slowly as she studied the photos. He waited patiently.
“I would like to keep them overnight. It would give me a chance to study them more when there is better light. We could meet for breakfast tomorrow if you have nothing else planned. I think the journey has caught up with me and I should try to get some rest. Do you mind?”
“What time should we meet in the morning?”
“I sleep in when I’m on vacation. Would 8:00 o’clock be too late for you?”
“That would be fine. I’ll be here at eight on the dot. I’ll walk you to your suite.” It was a short stroll through the gardens under the light of a full moon as music from the piano in the lounge drifted softly on the night air.
She handed him her room key. “Thank you so much for a lovely evening.” She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek as he opened her door and returned her the key. “I promise I’ll have more to offer in the morning.”
“That sounds like an invitation I can’t refuse.” He said with a sly smile.
“Inspector! You’re faster than a rabbit being chased by a fox. Good night Bugsy.”
He stood there in silence as the door close. ‘That was so cute. What’s a Bugsy?’ He thought. ‘I’ll have to ask Margaret tomorrow. Rob wouldn’t have a clue.’
Standing at the entrance waiting for Alex to bring his car up Mario notice Carlotta getting out of a taxi looking rather disgusted as she came through. “Carlotta. Is something wrong?”
Her head turned quickly to follow the voice. “Nothing that a stiff drink won’t cure. Care to join me?”
She selected a quiet corner on the terrace with large high-backed pale gray wicker chairs. Carlotta was silent until the drinks arrived and the waiter had disappeared. “That son-of –a-bitch tied his company’s fortune up in a trust. Fabio was furious and Adam didn’t give a damn as long as he gets his monthly allowance to keep him in booze and broads.”
“I understood from his lawyer that you were mentioned in his will.”
“Mentioned is the operative word. Not remembered. Not cherished, but not forgotten. I get a small apartment in Naples and a job singing at his night club for the rest of my life. I hadn’t expected to sing for a living the rest of my life inspector.”
“And what had you planned, Carlotta?” he questioned.
“None of your goddamned business! We’re not done yet, Fabio has a…”
She suddenly stopped as Fabio entered the lounge. “Good night inspector.” She stood and walked to meet him. He grabbed her arm and they disappeared out the entrance and into a waiting taxi.
Alex found him in the lounge. “Your car is waiting inspector.”
“Any idea where those two were headed?” he asked.
“They took a taxi sir, but I didn’t hear the directions.”
Chapter Four – Sharing Knowledge
The sun rose early the following morning for Mario and Rob. There’s not a lot of time to rest when working a murder and robbery case. The unknown set of finger prints on the blowgun had finally been identified through a search of police records as belonging to Thomas Bricker, alias Jack Swan, Cord Bennett and James Talbot – Other-wise known as the third guard. He had a record of dealing in illegal drugs, theft, and blackmail. All were petty crimes with short jail time. So just where was this mysterious person? Rob was working on finding out his last known location while Mario was preparing for his next meeting with Ms. Stockton.
It was nearing 8:00am as he drove to the hotel. Calling from his cell phone he contacted the front desk. “This is inspector Regitti, can you ring Ms. Stockton’s suite please?”
“I would be happy to do so inspector, but she just posted a letter and is having coffee on the terrace. Shall I have one of the boys take a message?”
“No. I’ve just arrived and will join her in a moment.”
As he approached her table she was studying the artifact photos he had left with her last night. “Good morning inspector.” She removed her glasses. “I ordered some strong Italian coffee before breakfast…would you care for some?” as she picked up the carafe to pour.
“Please. I see you’re already hard at work. Would you like to discuss business first or have something to eat?”
“Business first inspector…pleasure later.” she stated as she pulled her chair closer to his. The fragrance of her freshly washed hair combined with the hint of Chantilly perfume had him moving closer as their heads almost touched.”
“I know I’m looking at photos and not the real objects that were stolen. But I’m not sure you are going to like what I have concluded.” She glanced sideways for his response as she placed the glasses back on her nose.
“Continue please.” He nodded.
“The pieces, as far as I can tell, are not all priceless. They appear to be genuine antiquities but not of the best quality. Perhaps the most intriguing piece is the Aztec ceremonial knife of jade and obsidian. The gold bracelets with their unusual markings are Columbian and would probable sell on the open market for $4 to $6 thousand dollars. The Mayan jade death mask with its small gold links is rare and may bring the most money on the black market. Many collectors would bid just to hide it away in their collection. However, it is a museum quality piece and probably illegal to own, value…undetermined but in the hundreds of thousands.
The jade and lapis bead necklace is fairly common in the shaft burial chambers of Colima, and in the cenotes of other areas in Southern Mexico. The gold collar is from the Incas, possibly Peru or Colombia and seems to be quite well made. It’s hard to tell from the photo which is a little blurred but I would say it’s a very early piece worn by a highly placed female or priest. Once again, the value is undetermined by photo alone.”
He whistled “Dios Mio! You’re good!
Kathy smiled. “I didn’t attend school for nothing. There is a brain beneath this blonde hair. However, do you mind if I make an observation?”
“Please do!” he nodded accepting the rebuke.
“I can’t understand how a collector with Mr. Orcini’s reputation and known collection would purchase this mishmash of trinkets from Mesoamerica. If you want my opinion, the theft of these objects was used to cover-up the murder of Mr. Orcini and possibly something else. Someone has higher desires in mind.”
“You would make a good detective lady. You’re not just a pretty face, but have the brains to go with it…you grabbed the thought right out of my head.”
“Well… I aim to please when I can inspector and thank you for the complement. Hope I didn’t put you off your appetite for breakfast. I’m ravenous.”
“Since when did you start calling me inspector again?”
“Since we started discussing business inspector,” she smiled. “I never mix business with pleasure – Now how about that breakfast Mario?”
The conversation flowed as they learned more about each other. Both were in their mid thirties. Kathy traveled the world working in a profession she loved and Mario had his roots in Italy but no immediate living family members. Several cousins on his mother’s side and one aunt living in Tuscany formed his distant family circle.
Kathy’s father had died when she was young and her mom lived in Phoenix, AZ. Her single brother lives in Washington, DC with his gay partner. She had been married at the young age of sixteen. Her husband, a long time school mate, boyfriend a wealthy cattleman, had been killed in a small plane crash on their 18,000 acre ranch. They had no children and Kathy at the age of twenty was the sole heir. After the death of her husband, her brother had encouraged her to go back to school finish her education. She was an active woman and in excellent health. Mario found her easy to talk with and quite fluent on many subjects.
He decided he needed a break. “If you haven’t made plans for later today, maybe we can take a picnic lunch to a private little beach I know of.”
“After that breakfast I can’t even think about food right now. But nothing’s written in stone. I’m all yours.”
“I wish.” He thought, but he said instead… “I’ll bring the food and pick you up around 1:00 pm. You might want to bring a swimsuit. Now I have to get back to work. This case won’t solve itself.”
“Ciao. I’ll see you later” she winked.
He didn’t miss the body language, but his mind had already shifted into inspector mode.
Waiting at the station was a message to call Lord Marquis at his club in London. Curious, he stepped into his office and closed the door before dialing the number.
“Regency Club. How may we assist you?”
“I’m returning a call from Lord Charles Marquis.”
“May I say whose calling sir?”
He thought it best to leave off the inspector title. “Mario Regitti from Capri.”
“One moment sir, while I have him paged.” He waited in anticipation as they paged his Lordship.
“Inspector Regitti. Hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time, but thought you might like to know I made some inquiries about the strange man that didn’t fit in at the Orcini villa the night of the party.”
“By all means your Lordship, my ears are burning.”
“I contacted Kaweka Hunting in Papua, New Guinea and learned that the guide on our hunting trip had been dismissed for selling drugs to some of the hunt guests. They frown on that sort of thing you know and don’t tolerate it. However, they gave me his name as James Talbot. I don’t know if that’s of any help, but I do enjoy a mystery.”
Mario decided this was his opportunity and plunged ahead. “Speaking of mysteries, there seem to be a discrepancy in the hour you arrived back at the hotel on the night of the party. Can you explain?”
“Well inspector…I had a quick meeting with Sir Thomas Wingate. He was staying at the Hotel Excelisor Parco just down the road from our hotel. It concerned a new purchase for my collection and is a secret I didn’t want my wife to know about just yet. This is off the record inspector and should go no further than this call. It’s a surprise for her birthday.”
“I understand, but it does clear the picture for me and I appreciate your candor and the information about Mr. James Talbot. He has several other names as you might already suspect.”
“Thank you inspector. I won’t trouble any further unless something pops up. I know someone who works for Scotland Yard and he might have more information on Mr. Talbot. I’ll have him give you a call if he feels it’s appropriate. Working together never hurts. By-the-way, just an observation…I don’t think you will find too many blowguns on Capri. Good luck.” Mario chuckled to himself. Everyone wants to be a detective until they discover how hard it is to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
He checked his watch. It was almost time to pick up Kathy and he needed to collect a picnic basket, wine, food and his swimsuit. He might be pushing his late thirty’s but he still had a muscular physic. His first wife Sofia was the only child of a wealthy Italian wine grower in Tuscany. She and Mario had met in college and were inseparable until the skiing accident in Switzerland. They would still be together if an avalanche hadn’t swept them apart, causing her death and leaving him a family fortune he didn’t feel he deserved. He’s never been skiing since and never remarried. He was a military officer in training and decided to give it up and become a police officer instead.
He stopped by the marina café and Luca, the owner, helped to fill the picnic basket with bread, cheeses, fresh fruits, and sandwiches and of course wine and beer. Kathy, waiting in the lobby, noticed Fabio and Carlotta having lunch on the terrace. He leaned over pulling Carlotta closer for a romantic kiss as his hand caressed the back of her neck. Alex the valet parking attendant approached her. “The inspector has arrived Ms. Stockton.”
“Thank you Alex. By-the-way…Is Carlotta Romero staying here at the hotel?” she asked as she followed him to the entrance.
“She’s been here since the day after the murder. The inspector said to keep an eye on her. She’s not allowed to leave the island just yet. I don’t think she would murder anyone but she’s still a suspect.” He opened the car door as she joined Mario in the Fiat convertible and off they went winding down the narrow road to the marina where a small motor launch awaited them. The short ride around the end of the island brought them to a secluded beach in a small cove. They both wore their swimsuits under their clothing so it didn’t take long to get comfortable and wade into the refreshing cool water for a quick swim.
The granite rock formations of the island offered a stunning backdrop against the deep sapphire blue of the Mediterranean and the white sandy cove. Finished with the delicious lunch and a few glasses of wine, they relaxed under a large beach umbrella as she spread suntan lotion on Mario’s back and broad shoulders. “I’ve been thinking.” Kathy said.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” Mario smiled in question, his head turned sideways on the blanket.
“I’m serious.” She snapped giving his back a gentle slap. “So wipe that grin off your face inspector.”
His hand crossed his face and the smile disappeared. “Sorry.”
Kathy sat facing him. “What’s the relationship between Fabio and Carlotta Romero?”
Mario scrunched his face giving it serious thought. “Carlotta was his father’s mistress – or so that’s the appearance they’ve projected over the past two years.”
“Interesting.” She observed. “Then why was Fabio giving her a passionate kiss at breakfast this morning?” He gave her a questioning look as he turned and sat up.
“Well I’m not blind and I do know how to recognize a lover’s kiss.” She quipped.
“I certainly hope so.” He commented as he leaned towards her and was stopped by her gentle hand.
Kathy checked her watch. “Mario…I had a message this morning and I’m due to receive a call at 3:00 pm today. I didn’t bring my cell with me because I wanted us to have a quiet time together. So we should pack this up and make our way back to the marina. I almost suggested we use the private beach at the Villa Marquesa today. It’s accessible by boat from the sea or the funicular off the terrace. However, I’m pleased you brought me here instead.”
“I wasn’t aware the villa had a beach.” He said with surprise. “I’ve only been there once on the day the murder was discovered.”
“Then you didn’t know they have a funicular that clings to the rocky cliff down to the private dock where they can board the family yacht. From the dock there are some steps leading down to a small beach. You probably wouldn’t have noticed it if the funicular carriage was down at the dock.”
“How did you know about the funicular and the dock?” he asked as they loaded things into the boat.
“I’ve been to the villa two or three times in the past to help museum staffers catalogue Ricardo Orcini’s antiquities collection and arrange for pieces to be shipped on loan to museums for exhibitions. We worked in the basement safe room but got to enjoy the beach during our breaks. All work and no play makes for a dull life and no suntan. There’s also a small grotto in the side of the cliff at water level, but you can only access it by boat when the tide is out.”
“You’re just full of surprises.” He said.”Would you like to come and work for me?”
“I don’t know…how large is your collection?” she said with a smile and raised eyebrows as shock crossed his face.
Chapter Five – The Web Grows
Mario phoned Rob and asked if he was aware of the beach and dock at the villa. “I noticed the beach and dock at the base of the cliff but the funicular was stuck at the bottom of the cliff so we couldn’t get down to it and I didn’t see anything of interest with the binoculars.”
Mario was on to a possible lead. “I’m heading back to the marina now. I have a boat so meet me there and we can check it out. Bring your swimsuit just in-case. I assume living on an island that you do swim…I’ve never bothered to ask.”
“Will do. Would you believe I didn’t know how to swim until we moved to Capri? Margaret and the kids taught me how.” Smiling to himself, he hung up the phone. It’s always interesting learning to work with a new police partner.
Kathy said she would take a taxi back to the hotel so he didn’t need to drive her up the hill as he and Rob headed off for the villa’s side of the island. The beach was secluded as she had said and the family yacht was nowhere in sight as they pulled up to the dock. If the beach had been used by anyone recently, their footprints were long gone by now. The funicular had been turned off to keep it down at the dock. It wasn’t broken, just shut down with the flick of a switch.
“What do you make of that?” He asked Rob.
“Looks like someone used it to reach the dock and made sure it would still be here if they needed to return.” He guessed.
“Let’s check out the grotto. The tides out so it should be easy to locate.”
Heading their boat to the west as Kathy had instructed the small cavern appeared at the base of the rocky cliff. The light quickly changed as they entered the dark interior. After a moment, their eyes slowly adjusted to the dim reflections coming off the water through the opening. Mario had imagined a small cave but found it larger as they maneuvered around the edges. The low ceiling barely cleared their heads. Finding an underground beach inside, he hopped out of the boat and pulled it on shore.
A narrow tunnel about 4 feet wide and six feet high led off to the left and they followed with their flashlights. This led to a dead-end with a locked iron gate, behind which he could see stone steps leading upwards. Could this be a secret passage connecting to the villa? It would require further investigation. He turned to head back and his light caught something at the base of the rock just inside the gate. It was a gun. Mario retrieved an oar from the boat and was able to maneuver the pistol through the iron-gate.
On their return to town, Rob delivered the gun to Margaret at the forensic labs to be dusted for prints. Mario was sitting at his desk when a call came in from Kathy. “Sorry to bother but I have to cut my vacation short. They need me to help set up the new exhibition from Cairo at the museum in London so I’ll be leaving in the morning. Will you join me for breakfast tomorrow?”
“It will make my day but I’m sorry you must leave so soon.”
“Not half as sorry as I am. But business calls and this is a major exhibition. How was your trip to the beach at the villa?”
“Most interesting. I’ll explain at dinner tonight.”
“Oh…I’m sorry. I can’t tonight. I’ve been invited to the Villa Marquesa for dinner and to discuss reviewing the collection for possible sale or donation. It seems neither of the brothers wants to continue as collectors. Their father left his business in a trust but his collection and his land holdings were not included. Their lawyer and his wife will be there tonight. They said I could bring a guest. Would you like to join us?” she coaxed.
“They’re not my kind of people, but to be near you I will accept your invitation. Who knows what we can learn around a dinner table. What time shall I pick you up?”
“They were sending a car around seven o’clock, but I’ll let them know I’ll be bringing a friend and won’t need transportation. Wait until they find out who the friend is. You can tell me about your discoveries on the way. See you at seven. Ciao!” The line went dead before he could comment further.
Rob was on the other line in a matter of minutes. “Guess what? The prints on the gun were not really clear. Whoever used it must have been wearing knitted gloves, but it’s registered to Fabio Orcini, and the bullets found at the villa matched. Margaret is still working on the fragments of material caught in the trigger. It also appears someone held the gun by its barrel. Now we have both murder weapons. But a lot of questions still remain unanswered. Who planned the robbery? Why kill Orcini? How did the killer escape? Were the Orcini brother’s alibis confirmed without any doubt? What was the motive and who stands to profit? ”
“The answers will come once we put our thinking caps on my friend. Meanwhile I’m having dinner tonight at the villa as Ms. Stockton’s guest.” No comment on the other end of the line, but a low whistle came through receiver.
“How’d you swing that?”
“I’ll tell you later. It should give me an opportunity to make further inquiries. I may get some answers for you this evening. Orcini’s funeral is tomorrow in Naples. I want you there to represent the force and to be a good observer. Check the location and dust off you best suit. Keep your eyes and ears open and see what you can learn. And for Christ’s sake don’t let INTERPOL learn about the gun just yet.”
“No problem. It’s under lock and key at the lab and Margaret knows to zip her lips. Enjoy your dinner and your date.”
Mario had written all of Rob’s questions down on the pad next to the phone and was studying them. The pieces of the puzzle were starting to connect in his brain. They were only guesses for now but the picture began to take shape.
“The telephone rang in the station. “Inspector Regitti please, Detective Gordon Grant of Scotland Yard calling.”
“One moment please.” The call was put through to his desk.
“Regitti – here.”
“Inspector, this is detective Gordon Grant of Scotland Yard in London. Lord Charles Marquis thinks we have a criminal in common. Who in reality is not a common criminal at all, but is on our wanted list for drug trafficking, grand Larson, blackmail, fraud and dealing in the Black Market. I’m speaking of one James Talbot or perhaps you know him as Thomas Bricker, Jack Swan or Cord Bennett. He’s also wanted by the CIA and INTERPOL.”
“It’s good of you to call detective his Lordship said I might hear from you. We have reason to believe that your suspect is involved in a murder or series of murders here on Capri but we’ve lost track of him and want to find him for questioning.”
“Then it might interest you to know that we are pleased to cooperate with you in this pursuit. It’s our belief that he is here in England even as we speak. He’s a master of disguise and moves about at a rapid pace, but our informants have been on his trail and I believe we are getting closer. I would be interested to see your detail reports if you could send them over.”
“I will contact you tomorrow detective Grant. I may be able to hand deliver them to you. I’ll know the answer in the morning and thanks again for your call. Good hunting.”
He was ready for a stiff drink and a hot shower before dinner. This could prove to be an interesting night in more ways than on
Chapter Six – People Playing Games
Sitting in the hotel lounge waiting for Kathy, Mario noticed Carlotta as she made her way through the lobby. A limo was waiting as she stepped into the back seat. The man leaned over and gave her a kiss. It was Fabio Orcini. Fortunately he had gone unnoticed by the lovebirds as they sped off. The evening was getting more interesting by the moment. Kathy appeared in an emerald green chiffon dress designed in the Greek style covering a single shoulder and cinched-in around her narrow waist accentuating her hour-glass figure. Her green eyes sparkled, complimenting her pendant diamond earrings. Her graceful long elegant neck was unadorned and needed nothing to add to her beauty. She radiated a glow from her suntan today.
“I’ll have the prettiest date at dinner tonight.” He beamed as she approached.
“Well…Thank you very much, but I don’t think Carlotta will agree with that statement.” She smiled.
“Carlotta doesn’t agree with half the things I say because I’m still holding her as a suspect. Which reminds me, how did Fabio know you were here in Capri?”
“I sent a card of condolence and some flowers from the hotel to the villa. After all, his father and I were business acquaints and as I have said he wants me to reappraise the collection. Why…you’re not jealous are you?”
“No…Well, yes. I mean… that was an inspector’s question,” he said with a scolded sheepish look on his face.
“Mario. You are so cute and I’m flattered.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “This is going to be a most interesting evening.”
Leaving the hotel and driving the quiet narrow winding streets in the direction of the villa, he decided to push his luck. “Would you mind if I accompanied you to London?” The statement caught her off guard as she turned to face him with a look of surprise. “I’ve been in touch with Scotland Yard today and they may have a lead on our mysterious missing guard. He has a long record of numerous crimes with them but they believe he is in London and are close to catching him. I would like to be there if they can bring him in.”
“I would be delighted to have you visit London and would enjoy your company on the trip back. How wonderful. Where will you stay? My rental flat in So-Ho is small with only a single bedroom and no sofa but the Claridge Hotel is close by on Brook Street in Mayfair and is always cozy. I know the manager there, it’s where a lot of our museum guest stay. I’ll contact him when we get back from dinner. It’s within walking distance of the museum so we could do lunch together if you like.”
He took hold of her hand. “The closer I am to you, the better I like everything.” They were just entering the main gate to the villa. There was a new guard on duty that checked them through.
“Oh, by-the-way…we found another murder weapon in the grotto and a secret passage that might connect to the villa. Thanks for the tip.”
Kathy’s eyes were wide in surprise and her mouth was open. “Oh my god.” She whispered.
The villa was lit-up like a Christmas tree as they stopped in the porte cochère and a parking attendant took the car. Williams, the butler, was surprised to see the inspector as his face conveyed.
“I’m Ms. Stockton.” Kathy said extending her hand, “I believe you already know inspector Regitti, and you are….she hesitated for the answer.”
“You must be new here Williams, but for some reason you look familiar. I don’t recall seeing you here before.”
“I’ve been with the Orcini family almost two years now, but I used to work for Lord Marquis.”
“Ah…perhaps that’s where I saw you before. Well, I’m sure we will get to know each other before my work is done here.” She tilted her head towards the library. “Shall we join the others?”
Williams led the way. “Ms. Stockton and Inspector Regitti.” he announced as they entered the room. All heads turned in unison with mouths open in surprise.
“I do hope we are not too tardy.” Kathy said as she floated into the library lined with shelf after shelf of books and memorabilia. The highly polished mahogany wood paneling gave the space an opulent appearance. Of course, being on an island surrounded by the salt air, there was a slight musty odor mixed with Carlotta’s strong perfume.
“Of course not…welcome. I wasn’t aware that you knew the inspector.” Fabio croaked.
“And he wasn’t aware that I knew you either, so that makes you even. I must say that I was truly sorry to hear about the loss of your father. He was a dear friend and we shall all miss him.”
“How very kind of you,” Carlotta said sarcastically before Fabio could open his mouth again. “We accept your sympathies. The card and flowers were a nice touch. Would you care for a cocktail before we go in for dinner inspector, or are you on duty this evening?” she said with a haughty attitude and a sneer in her voice.
He answered with a smile and a nod. “I’ll have a scotch on the rocks – would you like a glass of wine Kathy?”
“That would be fine. I think Champagne feels like too much like a celebration.” She said as she noticed the Champagne glasses in everyone’s hands.
“I must be part Irish,” Carlotta said with amused laughter. “I believe in celebrating births, weddings and funerals.” Williams served them their drinks and the conversation that had been interrupted began once again. Carlotta quickly downed her Champagne and ordered another glass as she stared daggers at Kathy and Mario. Adam sat in a corner wingback chair saying nothing, oblivious to anything but his double scotch on the rocks and the decanter in his left hand. The others talked about the weather and the funeral plans for tomorrow.
“Dinner is served.” Williams announced from the doorway.
Kathy had met Giorgio the lawyer and his wife on a couple of occasions and Fabio introduced Mario and Kathy to his brother Adam as they went into the dining room. They were seven for dinner with Adam being the odd one. He was already drunk and slurring his words which caused Fabio and Carlotta a bit of embarrassment and concern. Williams helped him to his room immediately after the salad course. Carlotta’s temperament had mellowed during dinner. Perhaps it was the Champagne or perhaps she was intimidated by Fabio. Their eyes kept darting at each other as if sending warning signals and silent questions. Mario didn’t miss a blink. Something wasn’t right and the tension around the table was hovering on edge.
“How long have you two known each other?” Carlotta asked Kathy as their entrees were delivered.
“It’s only been two days. Or perhaps I should say two very enjoyable days. I’ve been here on a short vacation.” Kathy reached for Mario’s hand resting on top of the table and gave it a squeeze as she winked at him. Carlotta stared in icy silence.
Giorgio and his wife did the best they could to steer the conversation around the possible sale of the collection, the need for a new appraisal and of course the funeral in Naples tomorrow.
Mario was interested in Fabio’s trip to Barcelona. “How long were you in Barcelona? Did you stay at the Hotel Juan Carlos I or downtown? I understand it’s the best hotel in the city.”
Fabio looked a bit confused. “I told Mr. Anthony with INTERPOL that I stayed on the family yacht in the harbor. There was no need for a hotel as my meetings were at the shipping offices in the marina. We stopped in Nice on the return trip which delayed our arrival here in time for the party. Why do you ask?”
“My apologies, I’ve not had time to read all of the depositions done by INTERPOL and was curious why you were not here for the party? I’ll make time to do some reading on the reports while I’m in London.” Carlotta was suddenly all ears and appeared to have lost her appetite for food as she chewed on her nails.
“I see.” Fabio spoke as he looked at Carlotta, his forehead wrinkled in a frown. “And what takes you to London inspector?”
“I’m not at liberty to say just yet, but it has some bearing on your father’s murder and the subsequent robbery here at the villa.” Heads were turning in every direction measuring the expressions on each other’s face – all but lovely Daniella, the lawyer’s wife, with her jet black hair tumbling into her cleavage as she leaned forward to stuff her mouth with food. Silence followed as dessert was served and Carlotta proceeded to indulge herself with more Champagne.
Kathy finally broke the stillness, “Having the catalogue of the collection is a plus. We only need to determine what new pieces were added and incorporate them into the list. Pricing has stayed rather stable in antiquities so it shouldn’t be too difficult to value. I’m leaving for London tomorrow and I’m not sure how soon I can be back to assist. We’re setting up a new exhibit at the museum. I could let you know once I have a clearer picture of the time frame. If that works for you then we should probably call it an evening. We need to get an early start in the morning.”
“Did you say we?” Carlotta asked.
“Yes. The inspector has business with Scotland Yard in London, so he is flying up with me tomorrow.” Kathy’s slip of the tongue caught everyone’s attention.
Carlotta was suddenly very nervous and shot a questioning look at Fabio. Kathy and Mario said their good-bys on the steps of the villa and motored down the hill under a canopy of cypress trees and a silvery moon that peeked between the clouds. They looked at each other and said simultaneously, “I need a drink.” Mario headed for the marina café…not wanting to be at the hotel bar if Carlotta showed up.
“There’s something strange going on between those two and I think Carlotta is playing his game without a clue. I saw it in his eyes and I saw fear in hers. I hope she doesn’t get hurt. She knows something and he’s keeping her quiet about whatever it is.”
Kathy agreed. “I also got the impression he needs money. He’s too anxious to sell off the collection. I asked if they would consider donating some of the collection to the Metropolitan in New York but he only stared at me like I had asked for the moon. It would after all be an excellent tax write-off. But if the shipping company is having financial difficulties it creates a whole new picture.”
“Motive! You just opened a new can of worms – how do you do it?” Mario wondered.
“What are you talking… “Her hand went to her mouth. “Oh my, I see what you mean. But you forget…Fabio and Adam weren’t here on the island that night.”
“Maybe, and maybe not…I have an idea as to how that could have been arranged.” He was quiet.
“So?” she said waiting for the follow-up.
“So, we need to get some sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day. To be continued.”
“You’re not going to leave me hanging off the cliff are you?”
“Look at it this way…there is always the funicular – sleep on it – time to go. I’ll pick you up at eight o’clock so we can have breakfast here and wait for the ferry.”
“You’re impossible!” she snapped.
“Yes…I know.” Mario winked.
Chapter Seven – Follow the Yachts
Rob’s cell phone vibrated under his pillow. He strained his sleepy eyes to see the digital clock on the dresser. Midnight! It could only mean one thing…Mario was still awake. “Don’t you ever sleep?” he whispered as he left the room and closed the door quietly so he wouldn’t wake Margaret.
“I’m off to London early tomorrow and need to give you some instructions. Have you got a pencil and pad handy?”
“That’s my job… secretary to the chief. I’m sitting at the kitchen table…all ears – shoot.”
“Rossi. This is important so don’t give me any shit…okay? I need you to contact Maritime Registration first thing. Get the name of the Orcini family yacht. I think it’s called The Marquesa, but better to double check. Next, call Marine Traffic in Naples and find out the location of the yacht on the night of the murders. They’ll have the exact time and location via satellite for every yacht in the Mediterranean that night. Get all the information you can and send it to my attention at the Claridge Hotel in London.”
“Got it – and will start on it first thing this morning. I doubt they would have any idiots like me who would answer their phones at this hour. Is there anything else?”
“Yeah…cheer up. We have a case to solve and we’re on the right tract. Go back to sleep and dream of sugar plum fairies. Be sure you get up on the right side of the bed today. And for Christ sake stay awake at the funeral. I need to know who is and who isn’t there.”
“I’m already awake. You won’t let me sleep you nut-head. Ciao.” The conversation ended as Mario smiled. Rob was a good man. He could depend on him and now he could shut his eyes. Morning was already on the horizon.
He met Kathy at the hotel around eight o’clock and they were sitting outside at the marina café when Rob arrive for his breakfast. “I don’t believe it. They let you sit out here with all the real people? Did they burn your favorite table in the corner for firewood in the pizza ovens?”
“Just shut-up and sit down…but only if you’ll behave.” He joined them and ordered his usual scrambled eggs, wheat toast, fruit in yogurt and black coffee.
“We’re taking the chopper over to Naples International and flying out on Easyjet at 11:20 with a non-stop to Gatwick. I shouldn’t be gone more than three days. Be sure to overnight the info on the yacht when you get it and any thoughts you may have on the information. I gave Carlotta and Williams permission to attend the funeral, but they both have to return to the island afterwards.”
He learned from a former homicide chief that murderers more often than not, attend the funerals of their victims. Perhaps the missing guard might make an appearance. It pays to be on the look-out and Rob now has a photo of the elusive Mr. James Talbot, alias, etc., etc…
Rob drove them to the police helipad at the top of the hill and saw them off. He had already set in motion the search for information Mario had requested. Swinging by his house, he picked up Margaret and was soon at the marina to catch the ferry to Naples. It would be a late morning service so they planned to have lunch before returning to Capri.
The flight to London was on time. Kathy had secured Mario a terrace suite at the Claridge Hotel through her friend the manager. The room at the front of the building had a view of the brick buildings with steep grey slate roofs across Brook Street. The Claridge was a well maintained stately old building. The highly polished black and white tile floors in the entry foyer gave an elegant and sleek look to the grand old lady. Huge floral arrangements were everywhere. This was England in its heyday. The grand stairway with its ornate iron balustrade and Mahogany hand rail was covered with a modeled green carpet secured by long brass rods. The Reading Room was already set for high tea at 4 pm.
Mario was in a romantic mood and decided to take Kathy to a fancy restaurant that evening. He had the concierge make a reservation at Alexis Gauthier’s in a SoHo townhouse on Romilly Street – a short walk from her flat. The cuisine is Modern French with a hint of Asian influence. Décor is subtle and immaculate…starched white table linens and comfortable white leather chairs make you feel you are dining in a private club. Dinner by candlelight with soft music in the background made the evening perfect.
Once they were seated and placed their orders, Kathy looked across her wine glass at Mario. “Okay. I give up. You haven’t mentioned anything about the investigation and I’m on pins and needles waiting for some amazing revelations.”
“Sorry,” he said, gazing into her green eyes. “I have put some wheels in motion and I hate to talk about it until I’m sure all the ducks are in line. It’s bad luck to talk about speculations. Can’t we forget about murder for now and just enjoy each other company?” He reached for her hand and her smile told him the answer. He didn’t remember what they had for dinner and it really didn’t matter.
Back at the hotel, he asked if she would come up for a nightcap. When they awoke the next morning his arms were wrapped around her as she yawned and check her watch. “I’m so glad it is Monday and the museum is closed. Shall we stay here the rest of the day?”
He slowly opened his eyes. “I’m afraid Scotland Yard is not closed on Monday. How about some breakfast? You promised to show me around…remember?”
“My idea of showing you England does not include Scotland Yard. Let’s order breakfast in and I’ll go home to change clothes. You can go take care of business and we can meet back here at eleven. I’ll drive us out to the country for lunch at the George and Dragon pub near the village of Down. That’s where Charles Darwin lived. They do delicious Fish and Chips and sumptuous burgers. A drive in the country will shake out the cobwebs and among other things it’s not far from Menton Abbey where Lord Marquis lives. You’ll simply love the view of the abbey.”
“I like a woman who takes charge.”
Tickling him as she got out of bed, she managed to escape his reach. “That’s me. Now get up and order some food.” She stepped into the bathroom and dropped him a robe on the chair outside the door. “We must at least appear respectable for the delivery boy.” She voiced, and with her head cocked at an angle, she shrugged her shoulders and closed the bathroom door.
The meeting with Gordon Grant at Scotland Yard went well as he gathered more information on the mysterious missing guard and a few additional mug shots of some of his disguises. He would need to have Rob show them around the island when he returned which should be soon. Back at the hotel the concierge had left him a message. A package had been delivered by special courier from Naples. “Ah…Mr. Regitti…they said this was urgent and I was to hand deliver it to you directly. I tried your cell number but it is turned off. So I phoned Ms. Stockton and left a message.”
Mario took his phone out of his jacket pocket and checked. He forgot he had turned it off while in the building at Scotland Yard and hadn’t turned it on again. It rang immediately and he answered. It was Kathy. “Where have you been…the hotel has been trying to reach you?”
“I’m here at the hotel now and I have the package. Thanks for your concern.”
“Okay…it’s almost eleven now. I will be by to pick you up in ten minutes and you can tell me all about your morning.” She hung up giving him no time to respond.
Ten minutes later, a bright red 1998 Audi convertible with plush camel colored leather bucket seats arrived in front of the hotel as he waited chatting with the doorman.
“Care for a lift to the country cowboy?” she grinned.
Mario let out a low whistle as he lowered himself into the passenger seat on the left side of the car. “Wow! Where did you rent this baby?”
“I found it in my parking space at the garage and the keys fit.” She joked. “What was I supposed to do…call the police and see if they were missing a red Audi?”
He gave her a questioning glance with wrinkled brow.
“It’s mine handsome…now buckle-up or I’ll get a ticket.”
She quickly merged into the swift traffic as they headed east toward Kent and the rolling hills of the countryside. Kathy’s short blonde hair ruffled in the wind as it caught the rays of the afternoon sun. A green scarf was tied about her neck and tucked into her low cut blouse. She wore a peach top with a straight cut white skirt just above the knees and matching sensible white heels. Mario had dumped the jacket of his charcoal grey suit behind the seat and rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt. His tie was apricot with blue stripes.
As they swung onto the road out of London to Dartford, Mario sat sideways staring at the beautiful person behind the steering wheel. Either he was entranced by this woman or he was afraid to watch the traffic. Driving on the left side of the road had always been confusing and a bit frightening to him.
Kathy was chatting away offering tourist information on various points of interest passing on the roadside. Soon they were on highway M25 and entering the small town of Chipstead. They found parking on High Street in front of the George and Dragon with its white painted brick exterior and window boxes full of colorful flowers. The waiter guided them to the outdoor terrace and they were soon seated. Once their drink order arrived Kathy was ready for some information.
“Okay…now I’m all ears, so spill the beans.”
Mario laughed. “You English have such strange phrases.”
“Sweetheart…you forget, I’m not English. That was Colorado-talk. Now get on with this story before I go crazy.”
“Sorry… Scotland Yard is close to capturing the man we want. He’s has a long record of arrest and hides out in various countries. There may or may not be a drug operation connection with the Orcini family but we won’t know until he is caught. Meanwhile I have to return to Capri late tomorrow. Rob sent the information I needed about the location of the Orcini yacht. It was anchored off the coast of Capri on the night of the murder. These are all loose ends until we can tie them together. And that’s all we know so far.”
“If they’re dealing in drugs it could be Mafia or a foreign connection, you need to be careful. I don’t want our friendship to end before it has a chance to grow.” She said with a tremble in her voice. Their food arrived and they ate in silence for a few minutes. “When we finish lunch I have a surprise for you.” Kathy said in a cheery voice to lighten the mood.
“I’m yours for the afternoon and evening, so surprise me all you want.”
Leaving the pub she drove out Sundridge Road. Kathy eased the car off on the side of the road at a clearing and came to a full stop. She pointed over his shoulder and he turned in that direction. “Wow! Who’s castle is that?”
“It’s Menton Abbey. Isn’t it magnificent?” They stepped out of the car as they admired the setting.
“It’s unbelievable. Does Lord Marquis really live there?”
“Oh yes and it’s even prettier inside.” She answered.
A black limousine drove by slowly and stopped a short distance down the road as they stood staring off at the abbey. The chauffeur got out and opened the rear passenger door of the vehicle. Out stepped Lord Marquis. “Katherine my dear… and inspector,” he exclaimed walking towards them. I thought I recognized you as we passed by. What brings you both to my part of the woods?”
“I was showing Mario a view of your beautiful home. It was such a nice day for a drive in the country so we had lunch at the George and Dragon. Have you been to London today?” Kathy inquired.
“I took Elizabeth in to do some shopping and she’s staying over with her aunt to attend the theatre this evening. I have a business meeting at the club, so I’ll retrieve her tomorrow. Would you have time to join me for tea? I have something I wish to discuss with you and you can show our friend here the old abbey? We were just about to turn onto the property.”
Kathy looked at Mario who shrugged his shoulders. “We would be delighted if you’re sure it’s no trouble.” She said.
“It would be my pleasure to have your company. Just follow us in, I’ll phone ahead and let them know.”
Mario was most impressed with Menton Abbey and noticed all of the animal heads in the grand hall. However, their visit was cut short when his cell phone rang with a call from Rob in Capri. “We have a missing person,” he announced in a hurried voice. “Carlotta was on the ferry with us when it returned. She took a taxi back to the hotel, but the desk clerk said her room key was still in its slot. I checked with Alex and he said that Fabio was waiting for her in the lobby and they left together. I called the villa but Williams said she wasn’t there.”
Mario told him he would return on the first available flight out. He was afraid that she was in trouble and may have gone into hiding or was taken someplace to keep her quiet. Rob would need to start a search of the island for anyone who might have seen her. Mario suspected she knew something and did not want her to become another victim. The marina was under heavy surveillance and there was no way off the island except by boat or ferry.
He explained to Kathy his need to return to Capri immediately. They expressed their regrets to Lord Marquis, skipped tea and quickly returned to London. Mario secured a seat on the mid-afternoon flight back to Naples. Kathy promised to follow as soon as they finished installing the new exhibition at the British Museum. Mario warned her not to let Fabio know she was returning. He felt a need to protect her and she understood. The Orcini collection appraisal would have to wait.
While Mario had been on the phone with Rob, Lord Marquis had expressed to Kath his interest in purchasing the Orcini Collection once the value had been determined. He wanted to be first to place his bid.
Chapter Eight – The Disappearing Act
Mario arrived in Naples where he had arranged for a police helicopter to Capri. There was little time left before the evening tide and he phoned ahead to have Rob arrange a motorboat for them at the marina with instruction to have some important equipment on board. He was going by instinct and hoped his hunch was right. Mario was usually right when it came to his gut feelings.
They motored around the end of the island and quickly made their way to the Orcini dock and west to the grotto. The water was beginning to rise when they entered the cave. The outside light was starting to dim as they lit their lamps casting shadows on the stone walls and ceiling giving an eerie glow to the granite rock as they approached the underground beach.
Mario jumped out of the boat as it banked onto the sand and hurried to the tunnel they discovered earlier that week. There, handcuffed to the bottom of the iron-gate he found Carlotta. She appeared to be drugged but was still breathing. Her feet had been bound and tied to some heavy rocks. Mario removed the duck-tape from her mouth as she mumbled incoherently.
Rob cut through the handcuffs with large metal cutters and removed them from the gate. Mario, sawed through the ropes around her ankles, and the two of them carried her to the waiting boat as the water inched higher and higher. They would have to squeeze through the grotto opening before the last moment or be trapped inside.
Scraping their heads and the sides of the small boat, they escaped the clutches of the sea and rocks unseen as they motored back to the marina past the Orcini dock in darkness under a moonless night sky with twinkling stars. Carlotta was safe and they were anxious to hear her story.
Most likely someone would find her missing in the morning…if they even cared to check. She would have drowned by now which was obviously the idea. But who had planned this and why? Those were questions still unanswered. Perhaps Carlotta could supply the story once she had recovered. Mario placed her under heavy security in a private hospital room to prevent anyone from knowing where she had disappeared to. That should give the hornet’s nest a good shake once discovered.
Fabio was not yet aware that he was a suspect in his father’s murder, given the proximity of the yacht on the night of the party. Adam had already flown back to Cypress to be with friends. His alibi of being in Cypress on the night of the murder had been confirmed by ENTERPOL. The field of suspects was narrowing.
Mario sat waiting at the huge mahogany desk in the villa library the next morning when Williams appeared. “Inspector” he said. “What a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to see you. The guard didn’t call notify me of your arrival.”
Mario locked eyes with the butler, “I wanted to have a word with Fabio if he is available.”
Hesitating, Williams began to stammer, “I’m sorry inspector he left for Naples last night. They needed to stock the ship for a business trip at the end of this week.”
Mario gave him a questioning look. “Do you know where he might be going on this trip?”
Williams began to perspire and fidget. “I’m not sure sir… they don’t always inform me in advance. Can I give him a message for you?”
“Actually, you might be able to help me.” Mario said with a sly smile on his lips.
“I’m sure you must know there is a hidden passage from the villa to the grotto nearby and my guess is that it starts here in this library.” Rising from his chair at the desk Mario began to look around the room. “There must be a hidden door behind these books somewhere. There used to be many secret passages on the island when Tiberius was Emperor.”
Startled and suspicious the sweat was beading on Williams’ forehead. His hands began to shake and he was at a loss for words. His eyes darted about the room, landing on a single bookcase in the far corner as Mario watched this reaction. “I wouldn’t know inspector. I’ve only been employed here little over a year and the villa is very old.”
Mario stepped to the corner and began to run his hand along the sides of the bookcase panels. Nothing moved…no hidden lever to pull or button to push. However, he noticed a large thick book sitting askew on one of the shelves. Its title was Cesar’s Grotto. He removed it from the case thinking it might reveal an answer and discovered a lever behind it. Pulling the lever down, the case began to swing open on silent ball bearings.
He turned in time to see Williams leaving the library. He followed him quickly to the phone in the butler’s pantry where Williams was just about to dial and reached his hand to cut his call off. “Were you phoning Fabio to warn him of my discovery? Perhaps you would like to accompany me and see if there is something at the end of the tunnel.” Mario hadn’t even drawn his pistol and Williams’ knees were about to collapse. His eyes darted toward the broom closet.
“Go ahead…Take a look. Your blowgun is already at the forensic labs.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He said with a quiver in his voice. “I had nothing to do with Mr. Orcini’s murder.”
“Sorry, but we have reasons to suspect otherwise.”
“You can’t prove anything.” was all he could say as Mario turned him around, handcuffed his hands behind his back and walked him out to the waiting police car.
“We’ll see about that,” was Mario’s reply. “Save it for the judge,” he said as he put him in the back seat while Anna and Rosie watched in surprise…standing at the front door.
“Take him in and book him as an accomplice to murder.” Mario told Rob. “I’ll finish up here and meet you at the station.” The car drove off as the gravel drive crunched beneath its tires. He turned to Anna and asked if she could bring him some coffee to the library.
Mario found his way down the steep stone stairs of the tunnel to the iron-gate. There were no footprints to indicate who had carried Carlotta down the stairs and secured her to the gate. However, he found one of her earrings on the stone steps. He would need Carlotta’s confession for that part of the story.
As he reentered the library, Anna and Rosie were waiting for him. “Inspector…you said if we remembered anything more about the night of the party we should contact you.”
“That’s correct Anna. Is there something you remembered that you want to tell me?”
“Yes…it’s about young Fabio and Mr. Orcini. I noticed them having a conversation on the terrace the night of the party after the guests had all departed. It was just before we left the kitchen for the night. I had turned the lights out, but could see them clearly through the French doors standing by the pool. It appeared they were arguing, but we were trained not to eavesdrop on our employers. Williams appeared and they seemed to calm down, so Rosie and I went to bed.”
“Are you sure it was Fabio on the terrace?”
“Oh, I’m sure it was him. I have known the boys since I began working here ten years ago.”
“Anna…would you be willing to swear that Fabio was here on the night of the party?”
“Of course I would. Why wouldn’t he be here? He is after all one of the family.”
He took Anna’s hands in his to calm her shaking. “I know you were asked this before, but are you absolutely sure you didn’t recognize the person in the ski mask that forced you and Rosie into the freezer with Williams? Did he speak? Maybe you recognized his voice.”
“He didn’t say anything…just opened the freezer door and shoved us in. He was wearing black gloves and a knitted black face mask over his head. His black hair was sticking out on his forehead under the mask. I was too nervous to notice anything else.”
“Thank you. You’ve been a big help. I’ll send someone out to record this new information you remembered. Please call me when young Fabio returns and don’t mention I have arrested Mr. Williams.”
She shook her head in understanding. “I never really liked or trusted Williams. I think he’s been stealing from Mr. Orcini since he came to work here, but I couldn’t prove it. I wouldn’t have thought him to be a murderer.”
Mario corrected her. “I didn’t say he was a murderer. I arrested him as an accomplice in a plot to murder. By-the-way, did you happen to see Ms. Carlotta here after the funeral?”
“No, but I could tell she had been here, I smell her fancy perfume in the library yesterday after the funeral. I went in to let them know I had fixed a late lunch for them.”
“Keep your eyes and ears open and thanks again for all your help.” Descending the steps of the villa, Mario jumped over the car door like a teenager into his Fiat 124 Spider convertible and headed back to the hospital to visit Carlotta.
Chapter Nine – An Ounce of Truth
Mario called Rob and told him to have the marina in Naples notify them when the Orcini yacht left for Capri. His timing would need to be precise. Meanwhile, there was Carlotta and her confession. He needed to tie the loose ends of the web together. How much did she know and was she part of the plot to murder Ricardo Orcini.
INTERPOL was already checking the shipping company books for leads that would indicate the possible shipment of drugs from some of the countries and companies they service. If the Orcini’s shipping company was involved in the drug trade they would soon know about it.
Carlotta was sitting up in bed when Mario arrived. She gave him a smile of thanks and held out her hand. “I know it was you who saved me and I don’t know how I can ever repay you.” The tears began to roll down her scratched cheek. She had suffered some rough treatment. They hospital staff had tried to remove most of the sand from her long hair which still smelled of sea salt. The red markings on her wrist were testament to where the handcuffs had rubbed her delicate skin and her ankles were still raw where the ropes had been tied.
Carlotta shook in sobs as he sat on the side of her bed with her hands in his. “I believe you have something you want to tell me, but think carefully before you say anything. The truth can hurt but it can also help to heal. If you want to have a lawyer here I can send for one.”
“No…no lawyer is needed. I trust you…which is more than I can say for Fabio. Where shall I begin?”
“Why don’t I ask the questions and you fill in the blanks.” She nodded as she wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand and took a deep breath.
Mario’s questions lasted only one hour…by which time he had the whole story and Carlotta needed to rest. He had a call from Scotland Yard when he returned to his office. It was Gordon Grant. “We caught and arrested your missing guard and when told he was wanted for murder he started singing like a songbird. I faxed you a copy of his confession and his involvement in the murder conspiracy. Suffice it to say, he claims he did not commit any murders. However, he did commit the robbery. He says he stored the five items on the Orcini yacht and that was the last he saw of them. Fabio paid him a handsome sum and dropped him off in Naples the next morning. He says he left the library through a secret passage and took a small boat tied in some grotto to where the yacht was anchored so no one would see him leave. Claims he spent the night on the yacht…says he didn’t know about the murders until the following day just before he left for Switzerland.”
“I want to thank you for your assistance in this case detective Grant and I look forward to reading your report and his confession. I assume if we have any further questions we can count on your help?”
“Professional courtesies inspector…we always get our man.” Detective Grant hung up the phone as a fax was place on Mario’s desk.
“This just came in from Scotland Yard.” Rob said as he entered the office and took a seat across from Mario and the two of them began to read.
There was a knock at the door. “Come in.” Mario called out.
One of the police secretaries cracked the door and peeked around. “Sorry to disturb, but I just finished the Romero report and thought you would want to see it.”
Rob glanced at Mario. “You didn’t tell me. When did you see Carlotta?” The secretary placed the report on his desk and retreated closing the door behind her.
“I was saving it as a surprise. And speaking of surprises, did Margaret ever get that DNA report back on the blowgun? It’s been almost a week.”
“She hasn’t said anything but I’ll check and see.” Rob stepped out of the office to make his call to Margaret. He is always very private when it comes to speaking with his wife. Terms of endearment and private conversations are for their ears alone and Mario respects his privacy.
Stepping back into Mario’s office he shakes his head. “Nothing yet, but she hopes to hear later today.” He picks-up the Romero report and starts to read. “This is going to put a rope around his neck for sure. Williams has asked to see Mario’s lawyer but we haven’t been able to contact him yet. His secretary says he’s out of the country on vacation.”
“He’s being held without bail. Let him squirm for a while. I don’t want him to talk to anyone who might contact Fabio.”
His phone buzzed. “Regitti here.”
“Inspector, I have a call on line two from a Ms. Kathy Stockton. Shall I put it through?”
“Yes Angela, please do.” He said closing his eyes so he could visualize her smiling face.
The phone rang again. “Bugsy speaking…how can I help you?”
The sound of his voice cracked her up and he could hear her laughing on the other end. “I’m calling to report that a crazy woman is about to descend on your beautiful island and she needs your personal loving care. I can’t stand not knowing what’s happening. Will you meet me at the marina this evening?”
“I love surprises. Of course I’ll meet you. My small apartment is not up to the standards of the Claridge Hotel but it is comfortable.”
“I’ve booked a suite at the Palace hotel again just to preserve appearances. I know how people on a small island gossip and you have a reputation to up-hold,” she announced.
“Then we shall have dinner at the hotel tonight. I’ll make the arrangements.”
She giggled with delight. “See you at 7:00 pm. Ciao Bugsy.”
Rob couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. He was about to burst with laughter he could barely contain. “Bugsy?” he said with a chuckle.
“Haven’t you got something better to do…like find me a DNA sample?” Mario twisted in his chair looking discussed as he picked up the phone to make a dinner reservation.
Jumping up to leave the office Rob smiled as he pulled the door shut, “I’m on it Bugsy.”
“No one likes a smart ass…” Mario chimed in throwing a pencil at him…but the door closed before he had finished.
Chapter Ten – Confessions
The crime-case board on the wall in Mario’s office began to take shape as he added pieces of information. This was the point that always excited him as the story and its characters started to fuse together. He moved the photos and cards around on the board connecting the strings between them as the causes and motives, factors and details made his hypothetical theories become a reality. He finally envisioned the answers he had been searching for. There were a couple of missing pieces before he could wrap things up. He passed Rob as he headed out of the building.
“I’m driving out to the villa to check on Anna and Rosie. I want to take a look around and see if I can find anything the forensic team might have missed. Let me know as soon as you hear from Margaret on the DNA samples.”
“Got it! Would you mind if I joined you?” Rob asked. “I’d like to investigate that library again myself. I have a feeling things are not always what they seem on the surface and even though our team is good, they could have missed something. You proved that with the hidden bookshelf doorway.” Mario offered his approval with the shake of his head.
Arriving at the Villa Marquesa they were greeted by Anna. She seemed worried as she showed Rob into the library and followed Mario out to the pool terrace. “I glad you’re hear inspector. I was about to call you. Rosie has finally confessed something to me that I know you will want to hear. Rosie.” She called loudly. “Come out here on the terrace and speak to the inspector.”
Reluctantly, she slowly joined them by the pool. Her head bowed in shame and her hands clasped together to in front of her to keep them from shaking. “I was afraid to say anything because I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble and I knew mamma would be angry with me.”
Mario motioned for her to have a seat at one of the tables as he and Anna joined her. “So what is this secret you’ve been keeping?” Tears began to form in her eyes and Mario offered her his handkerchief. She blotted her cheeks and took a deep breath.
“We saw the murder of Mr. Orcini.” Mario let the statement sink in before his next question.
“Who is WE?”
Rosie raised her head. “My boyfriend and I. We were in the pool cabana when it happened. No one saw us because the lights were out and the doors were locked. It was between five and six o’clock on the morning after the big party. Mamma was still asleep. Ricky, that’s my boyfriend, crawls over the back garden wall and I leave the laundry room door unlocked so he can get in and meet me in the cabana.” She hesitated, glancing at her mother, who nodded for her to continue. “We heard a splash and knew someone was in the pool. The lights were on under water and all we could see was a dark figure emerge at the shallow end. Mr. Fabio was standing on the terrace at the shallow end of the pool and they were arguing but we couldn’t hear their conversation.” She paused to clear her throat. “Mamma, would you get me a glass of water please?” Anna went to the kitchen.
“I haven’t told mamma that Ricky and I have been meeting in the cabana for over a year. I knew she would be upset…but Ricky decided we should tell you what we saw. He said it was only right. I know we are in trouble with our parents,” she was shaking, “but are we in trouble with the law?”
Anna returned with here water and she took a sip as she waited for Mario’s response. “You’re not in any trouble with the law…you’ve come forward voluntarily with additional important evidence you have remembered…but I need the rest of your story. Please continue.”
Meanwhile, Rob was making a thorough search of the library and noticed a group of book bindings that were not really books but a box made to look like a set of volumes. He removed it carefully from the shelf sitting it on the desk and lifted the recessed handle on top. Inside the box he discovered a vial with liquid and a small container of tiny feathered darts. A smile crossed his face from ear to ear…Mario will be pleased he thought.
After his conversation with Rosie, Mario assured her that she and Ricky were not accessories in the murder but valuable eye witnesses and they would need to testify at the murder trial, which could possibly be done by deposition. He told them to pack things they might need and made arrangements for Anna and Rosie to be taken into protective custody until Fabio was behind bars.
Looking around the pool, he heard the re-circulating pump come on and the surface water began to swirl towards the scupper at the shallow end. Momentarily his eyes focused on the scupper and he promptly moved to the other end of the pool. Kneeling, he lifted the lid on the scupper and reached in lifting the plastic waste container out. There in the basket he found a tiny feathered dart. He was positive it had to be the dart that killed Ricardo Orcini. Perhaps it had come loose when he fell backwards into the water and the suction had pulled it into the scupper.
Rob appeared with the box he had found and was showing Mario when his phone rang. It was Margaret with the DNA report. The police car that Mario had arranged for Anna and Rosie had arrived. They would be taken to a small hotel on the other side of the island for a few days.
Mario’s phone rang. It was the Maritime offices. The Orcini yacht had left Naples marina and was heading for the island. The time had come. He and Rob would await Fabio’s arrival in secret, hiding in the pool cabana. Rosie had shown him the secluded hiding place where she and Ricky had hidden when they witnessed the murder.
Waiting on the pool terrace, they could hear the motor of the approaching yacht as it neared the dock below. The funicular began to ascend as they slipped into the cabana.
Fabio was alone. As he hurried across the terrace to the house he opened the French doors and called for Williams, but there was not answer. He checked in the kitchen but found no one. Mario and Rob watched as he hurried into the library. They abandoned their hiding spot, moving through the laundry room, into the kitchen and through the dining room. Carefully scanning the library from the open door Fabio was not in sight, but the bookshelf secret passage door was open. Mario… keeping a sharp eye on the passage entrance, sank into a comfortable leather chair to wait, while Rob hid behind the open shelf-door.
Fabio appeared in the passage entrance out of breath. His eyes focused on Mario as he announced, “She isn’t there – is she?”
Fabio advanced further into the room. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. What are you doing here and where is Williams?” He answered in a demanding tone.
“Williams is in jail. Your extra guard has been arrested by Scotland Yard in London and Carlotta is in safe police custody as are Anna and Rosie.” Mario calmly informed him while still seated. “I’m placing you under arrest for murder, conspiracy to murder, robbery and drug trafficking, and whatever else I can tag on.”
“You’re joking. You can’t prove anything. I wasn’t even here.”
“We have all the proof we need…two eye witnesses, several confessions and both murder weapons. What more do I need?”
Fabio glanced at the library shelf. The book box was gone. He started to move toward the library door. “I wouldn’t try to escape if I were you.”Rob said from behind him as the barrel of a pistol touched his back. “Hands behind you.” He added as he slipped the handcuffs on.
Mario rose from his chair. “Thanks Rob. It’s been a busy morning.”
“What say we book this slime bag and grab some lunch? I’m starving.” Rob stated.
“Don’t you think we should check the yacht before we leave? We might find the stolen artifacts and who knows what else.”
Rob nodded in agreement. “Where do I put him while we are doing that?”
“Put him in the freezer and lock it. That’ll give him time to cool off.”
“You can’t do that.” Fabio whined.
“You should have thought of that when you did it. Don’t worry…we’ll be back to get you.”
Once he was stored in the cooler Mario and Rob took the funicular down to the dock. And discovered there was no crew on board…A yacht that size usually has at least two or three crew. They rummaged through the various compartments and finally located the hidden artifacts in a burlap bag under one of the bunks. Rob was checking the storage drawers and found a pair of knit gloves and a black knit ski mask. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together.
Chapter Eleven – Spider in the Web
Later in the afternoon Mario phoned Marcus Antonio at INTERPOL. “Just wanted to let you know we solved the murders at the Villa Marquesa and have the murderers in jail.” He waited for a response.
“What do you mean murderers? Was there more than one? When did all of this happen? Why was I not informed sooner?”
“What…Was…When…Why? You sound like a prom queen who didn’t get an invitation to the dance. Don’t get upset.” Mario said calmly. “We have all the evidence here plus two eye witnesses. There are three confessions and two murder weapons. Come over tomorrow morning and I’ll fill you in on the details. Have a good night’s rest. Ciao.” He hung up and called the hotel for his dinner reservation with Kathy that evening. It was just five o’clock and he was going to have a fun evening telling Kathy about the day’s events.
He met her at the marina at 7:00pm and made the short drive to the hotel. She was bubbling with enthusiasm and excitement. He told her the case was solved. “Don’t say another word. I want to hear it all at dinner. Let me shower and change clothes. You can order us cocktails and I’ll meet you on the terrace in fifteen minutes.” She kissed him on the cheek and followed the bellboy to the suite.
There was a light comfortable breeze and the sunset was turning gold on the horizon with apricot, pink and mauve clouds drifting to the west. Kathy arrived right on time wearing a low cut shear silk dress in dark purple. She slid in beside Mario and circled her arm around his. “I missed you.” She said softly.
He placed his hand over hers. “Me too.” His lips brushed hers with a gentle kiss.
They sipped on their cocktails for a moment as they shared the view of the sun sinking behind the Isle of Ischia. The waiter appeared and they ordered a second drink. “Okay…my ears are burning so tell me the story.” It was a simple statement from Kathy and she was now relaxed.
Mario took a stiff drink and began to untangle the web for her. “Fabio arrived at the villa by yacht before sunrise. Possibly thinking no one would see him. But Ricardo was taking his morning swim. Rosie and her boyfriend Ricky were having a rendezvous in the pool cabana when they heard a splash and peeked through the canvas drapes to see Fabio and his father having an argument. They saw a silhouette appear near the cabana. He raised a long thing to his mouth and suddenly Ricardo collapsed backwards in the pool. He was standing in the water at the shallow end facing Mario.
They continued to watch as Williams approached Fabio and they shook hands. Fabio disappeared into the house and out the front door. Williams returned to the butler’s pantry area while Rosie and Ricky hid in the laundry room. Rosie quietly snuck out the back kitchen door and Ricky climbed back over the garden wall. No one saw them leave.
The DNA on the blowgun found by Rob matched that of Williams on the coffee cup we barrowed from the villa the morning I questioned the four suspects. Today I found the missing dart in the pool scupper. Rob discovered the poison and more darts hidden in a box on a shelf of the library.”
Kathy tapped his arm. “Stop just a minute. I need time to digest these details. Are the kids in trouble?”
Mario found it touching that she would think of Rosie and Ricky immediately. “Not with the police. They’re our star witnesses. But I’m sure they’re mothers weren’t happy to learn about their secret rendezvous. I’m sure they’ll weather through – at least they have a conscience and honest heads on their shoulders to do what’s right.”
“Okay…go on with the story. Or should we order dinner first?”
Mario signaled the waiter and he took their orders. “And bring us a bottle of the best Champagne you have. We are celebrating.”
“Let’s see…where was I? Oh yes…Carlotta. I arrived back here in time to rescue her from drowning. Mario had kidnapped her after the funeral, drugged her and tied her to the base of the iron-gate in the grotto, expecting her to drown when the tide came. I assume he was planning to dump her body in the Bay of Naples, weighted down with ropes tied to heavy rocks. She had overheard Williams and Fabio discussing the murder of Ricardo Orcini and the fake robbery; so they planned to do away with her.”
Kathy’s hand covered her mouth in disbelief as the shock registered. Sad and concerned she asked, “Where is she now?”
“She’s recovering safe and sound in a guarded private hospital room. We already have her deposition recorded.”
“Maybe I could go visit her. She must be feeling terribly alone and abused right now. I could take some flowers and make-up to her. I’ll bet you hadn’t thought of that.”
Mario nodded. “You’re right. You have a kind heart and I’m sure it would cheer her up.”
His cell phone rang and he took the call as he stepped away from the table. “What’s up Rob?”
“Margaret matched the threads on the gun with the threads on the knit gloves. There may not be finger prints but who ever fired the gun used the gloves, the residue from the shots was still on them. All she needs now is Mario’s DNA to confirm a match with the DNA on the gloves. My guess is…the guards knew him and were not expecting to be shot from behind.”
“Good observation. We have his DNA on the papers he signed at the station. Run those over to Margaret and see what she can do.” Mario was sure there would be a match.
Their dinner arrived and they ate quickly. Two cappuccinos later as they watch the lights of Naples sparkling in the distance, Kathy suggested having a nightcap in her suite. When they awoke the next morning the sun was shining through the open doors to the terrace and the birds were in full voice as they left their roosts and soared into the clear blue sky on the morning breeze in search of breakfast.
Mario had switched his phone to mute but there was a message waiting from Rob…just six words. “INTREPOL is here. Where are you?” He had forgotten Marcus Antonio would be on the first ferry over from Naples.
He called Rob back and told him to let Tony read the reports. He would be there in twenty minutes.
“He’s already started reading them – And man!…he’s red as a beet with embarrassment. We really pulled one over on him.” Rob whispered his glee as Mario hung up the phone.
“Gotta go to work, but I’ll be back for breakfast in about an hour.”
“What time is it?”she asked in a sleepy voice as she stretched in bed.
“Seven-thirty.” He said as he finished dressing and kissed her cheek gently.
“Ooooooo”…she moaned as she turned over and went back to sleep.
Marcus Antonio was waiting for him at the office. “Wow! What a tangled web they weave.” He exclaimed handing the reports back to Rob.
“That’s what spiders do Tony. We just have to snip at the ends and the web collapses catching them in the center. All we are waiting for now is the DNA results on Fabio to match with the gloves and the ski mask.”
“How do you know it was him in the ski mask, and why would he shove Williams in the freezer with Anna and Rosie if he was the conspirator who murdered Ricardo Orcini?” Tony quizzed.
“Anna remembered seeing some black hair sticking out around the mask. The extra guard has red hair and he was busy committing the robbery when Fabio, holding his gun, hit Williams on the back of the head in the dining room. I think he planned to put Williams in the freezer but Anna and Rosie arrived in the kitchen before he had the chance.
He then hid in the secret passage. But with no way to escape to the yacht without being seen, he decided to reduce the number of people who could pin anything on him. Anna and Rosie unfortunately became victims in his web.”
“We’ve tied most of the loose ends together and I’m turning this case over to you. I need a vacation. You’ll need to contact Adam and let him know all the details. He’ll be the sole heir once Fabio is convicted for murder. You might let him know that there is a buyer interested in purchasing Orcini’s entire collection of antiquities in the safe room below ground. He can contact my office for details. And remember…never underestimate the butler. I told you he was probably guilty. Have a good morning chief.”
“You too inspector.” Tony replied embarrassed and relaved as he turned to leave and closed the door.
“Now why did you go and give the case over to him? I thought we were gonn’a get all the credit.” Rob groaned. “And what was that about a vacation?”
“Don’t worry. Tony’s a fair man and he knows when he’s been out smarted. We’ll get the recognition when it’s due. Meanwhile, I’m planning to take Kathy to visit my aunt in Tuscany if she’ll go.
“Wait a minute. Who’s in charge while you’re gone?”
“You are you idiot. Just don’t call me about any murders while I’m having a good time. Ciao!”
Driving through the rolling country side of Tuscany in a silver VW Rabbit convertible Mario and Kathy had stopped in several small villages and savored some of the local cuisine. The August temperatures in Tuscany hovered in the mid eighties Fahrenheit or 30 degrees Celisus. Local people were working in the vineyards and Mario was explaining about the fields of red poppies that cover the farm lands of the Val d’Orcia in April and May. These are also known as the “Flanders Poppy” or “corn poppy” because it thrives on land cultivated for growing corn.
“How close are we to the villa now?” Kathy asked as she reached for a bottle of water.
“See that next hill ahead?” Mario answered. “You’ll be able to see it when we top that rise.”
When they reached the top of the hill, he stopped the car at a set of ornate gates. No one was coming either direction as they stepped out of the Rabbit. Kathy saw more rolling hills and in the distance she spotted several red tile roofs and clusters of Italian cypress trees. There were corn fields and vineyards on each side of the road and a bridge at the bottom of the hill that crossed a river. A carved stone sign on the right column of the gates read Villa Baldini.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Does all of this land belong to the Villa.” Kathy voiced as her head made a 180 degree turn.
“Yes…it does. I didn’t tell you because I wanted it to be a surprise.”
“Lord have mercy! You certainly guest that right.” Kathy was stunned at the sheer size of the property.
“It’s a working farm and vineyards. Aunt Carmela has a full staff of people who take care of running it for her ever since her husband died eight years ago. She’s my first wife’s aunt and I let her live here and enjoy the place. She likes to entertain so I’m sure we will be expected to join in.”
“Are you saying that all of this is yours?” Kathy’s jaw had dropped.
“Technically yes… I inherited it from my wife, but my job now keeps me busy on Capri. I won’t live here until I find someone to share it with me.” He put his arms around her as they stood gazing at the scenic setting. He smelled the scent of her shampoo and remembered their first night together. “We should get on down the road. I know Aunt Carmela’s anxious to meet you.” Mario gave her a gentle hug and helped her back into the car.