BeVedettaFALLING STARS(an investigation by Enrico Radeschi)
by Paolo Roversi ♦
It all started on a very hot night in Milan, the air was swamped with mosquitos and humidity. Enrico Radeschi and his friend Loris Sebastiani, Deputy Commissioner, who had both made it through a nightmarish case that made them sacrifice hours of sleep, energy and leave days, were wandering around the Navigli area in search of a nice cold beer and a new action plan for their now hopelessly compromised summer vacation.
“It’s the week of Ferragosto, the most loved National holiday in August, when all Italians go on vacation, and we won’t find even a vacant hole in the ground anywhere!” sighed the policeman.
Enrico nodded. He had parked “Yellowjacket”, his 1974 spray painted in yellow Vespa, near the Darsena and after taking just a few steps he was already dripping with sweat, to the point that his black T-shirt with the logo MilanoNera, the investigative reporters’ portal for which he wrote, was sticking to his back.
Sebastiani wasn’t doing much better either; he had actually taken off his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves, which is a historical event.
They found a table in one of the many outdoor venues on via Corsico. Radeschi ordered a beer and the policeman ordered a Sbagliato, the famous Italian cocktail.
“We ruined our holidays thanks to this case that kept us stuck here in the city up to today,” sighed Enrico. “Couldn’t criminals be told to commit crimes only in winter and, while we’re at it, not during national holidays?”
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it? This scorching heat is enough to drive anyone crazy.”
Just then, Inspector Mascaranti joined them at the table. The relationship between this not particularly intelligent animal and Radeschi was based on sincere hostility. However, for ease of things, Radeschi tried to get along with him.
All three had worked over the past three weeks on the Wolkowitz case in which the culprit had been brought to justice just a couple of hours earlier. To celebrate the end of the investigation, Sebastiani invited them both out for a drink, so the two had to try hard to not punch each other out for yet a few more minutes.
The inspector ordered a Mojito and, finally, the time came to clink glasses.
“So, you’re going on vacation tomorrow?” Radeschi asked Mascaranti just to strike up some sort of conversation.
“Yes, my family is waiting for me at the seaside. They are already at the pensione where we go for about 10 days every year… And what are your plans?”
Sebastiani imperceptibly played with his Toscanello cigar which he held between his lips and never lit.
“Well, nothing, we didn’t have time to even think about it, and now we’re stuck here.”
“Oh,” sighed the inspector, suddenly hit by a strong beam of light. “In this case, I may have a proposal for you.”
The cigar slid from one side of Sebastiani’s mouth to the other as Radeschi finished his beer in one long chug so that he could immediately order another one.
“Let’s hear it,” Sebastiani whispered.
“It’s very simple; my uncle broke his leg just this afternoon and he was supposed to leave tomorrow. A magnificent Relais in the Tuscan Maremma. Three days already paid for, only I can’t go for two reasons, one because my family is waiting for me and two because it wouldn’t exactly be a vacation…”
“Then, what would it be?”
“Well, you would have to participate, that’s what.”
Mascaranti sighed. He was not one for long explanations.
“August 10, as you know, is the night of San Lorenzo…”
“The night of shooting stars, yes.. and?” Radeschi intervened. “Will we have to make a wish?”
“No, my uncle is the Chairman of his town’s amateur astronomers’ association and he was supposed to go as a representative. You see, the resort where the event will take place, the Vedetta Relais, is located right on the top of a hill where you can enjoy a splendid three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view. He told me that in the daytime you can see the island of Elba and, on clear days, even Corsica. While at night…”
“You can observe the stars.”
“That’s right. You would just have to pretend to be interested in the subject and, from time to time, take a look through the telescope. I would go, but I booked a place in Romagna with my wife, children and in-laws, and if I don’t show up, I risk getting a divorce.”
“By just peeking into the telescope from time to time?”
“Exactly, that’s all you have to do. An amateur astronomer from Follonica will be there to entertain everyone in the evening and talk about the beauties of the cosmos.”
“What about the fact that there are two of us?”
“Oh, not a problem. My uncle booked a double room! He was going to go with his wife.”
“Okay, then we’ll pretend to be amateur astronomers,” murmured Sebastiani, gulping down his Sbagliato to the last drop.
“You know Loris, I’ve always wanted to be an astronaut!”
“Of course, Enrico and you have just the right physique for it. With that beer belly you’ve grown lately, you wouldn’t even fit in your spacesuit…”
The following morning, at the first light of dawn, to take advantage of the cooler weather, Radeschi and Sebastiani boarded the Deputy Commissioner’s powerful SUV for Scarlino.
“A delightful medieval village in the Tuscan Maremma,” the reporter read out loud from his smartphone.
“Don’t start with your crazy electronics, okay? I just want to relax.”
“God forbid, Loris! Complete relaxation. I haven’t even brought my laptop but let me do some research with my mobile phone on the place where we are going…”
“Just two words, ok?”
“Good. Listen. BeVedetta, which is the hotel chain to which the Relais belongs, is a refined idea of hospitality accommodations distributed over the territory of Scarlino in the Maremma area, thought of and created by the owner, Anna Barberini, inspired by her great love for her roots…”
“This name sounds familiar to me.”
“No, the woman’s name.”
“Well, it was she who first took over the family home, transformed it into a high-end boutique hotel, and then created glamping, which is the crasis between glamorous and camping, with luxurious tents on stilts. And now I can also see why the amateurs’ convention is held there. The individual glamping lodges are placed according to the constellation of the Pleiades, cool right?”
The cop nodded listlessly before settling himself into a stubborn silence for the rest of the trip.
They reached their destination at around 11.30 am and were left speechless. The estate was located on the top of a hill where they enjoyed a wonderful view. Lush vegetation grew around the manor house making the bucolic landscape truly special and relaxing.
“These amateurs have it quite well,” commented Radeschi, getting out of the car and heading towards the Relais.
“Yes, even if astrologers certainly earn more.”
The reporter did not reply with a comeback to the joke because a woman, with curly hair and a big smile, was coming towards them to welcome them. Sebastiani’s cigar almost fell out of his mouth when she shook his hand.
“Very pleased, I’m Anna Barberini, the owner of BeVedetta. Please, this way. Your room is ready,” she announced.
The policeman and the reporter followed her up the stairs, until Anna ushered them into an elegant room with a fabulous terrace from which you could see the coast and the island of Elba.
“This room is perfect for you, Loris,” she added, casting a mischievous look at Sebastiani. “It’s called The Charming Libertine.”
The Deputy Commissioner played with his cigar between his fingers. Now he remembered who Anna was, and boy did he remember! Years ago, he had tried in vain to add her to his list of post-breakup flirtations…
“So, you would be the Chairman of the Amateur Astronomers’ Club of Brugherio?” she asked, still smiling.
The cop’s Toscanello was about to fall again, but he decided to play along with her.
“In person,” he replied.
Radeschi shook his head as the two exchanged mutual smiles and looks.
“So, do you two know each other?”
“Oh, I would say yes,” Anna replied, amused at watching the Deputy Commissioner’s reaction.
“Anna used to live in Milan,” Sebastiani explained embarrassed, “and for a certain period, after my divorce, we dated.”
“Honestly?” Radeschi commented amused.
“Yes!” she intervened. “And, apparently, you two are crashing this event! A Deputy Commissioner and a…”
“Oh, then we’re in good hands! So, the press is here to document the event, is that right?”
Enrico nodded quickly. He had never written a single word about falling stars and, all in all, this was going to be an opportunity to learn something new. Not to mention that the place offered its visitors inner peace: the lush greenery that surrounded them, the swimming pool that integrated perfectly with the landscape, the aromatic herbs that flourished and then the splendid panorama that one could enjoy… It would not have been at all difficult for Radeschi to draft up an article that would praise this all, indeed.
“I’ll be waiting for you at 1:00 pm for lunch, alright?”
“We’ll be there!” Loris assured her as she closed the door behind her.
“Is the Libertine room to your convenience?” Radeschi asked, sneering.
A very slow nervous rotating movement of the cigar put an end to the conversation. The cop’s patience was reaching its limit and this was his signal to Enrico that he would be better off to not tempt fate.
After a shower and a little rest on the large terrace, from which you could see the rocky coast of the island of Elba, the two went downstairs for lunch.
Anna greeted them with her usual smile.
“I had the table prepared under the holm oak.”
All three sat down and, within some ten minutes or so, the steaming hot dishes arrived.
“Today the chef prepared pici (fresh spaghetti) with pork ragù, rosemary and lemons from my garden, I hope you both like them.”
“They’re perfect!” confirmed Radeschi with his mouth watering.
Sebastiani cast an enquiring look at Anna who was handing him a small glass bottle.
“A gift for you, Loris. I remember that you love to eat spicy hot food and these are chopped chilli peppers, produced from the plants I planted last year. Careful, they’re very hot! They say they’re also aphrodisiac… May I?”
Anna, helping herself with a spoon, skilfully sprinkled the spicy powder on the policeman’s plate, as he blushed. To get Loris out of this embarrassing situation, Radeschi took possession of the chopped peppers and covered his pici with them.
“I love spicy food too!” he stated, as he casually made the jar disappear into one of the pockets of his cargo shorts.
After lunch, which had continued with typical Maremma dishes, revisited in a creative and unusual way, they relaxed alongside the swimming pool, which reminded Radeschi of the number eight because of its shape. They weren’t alone but it was nonetheless quiet.
“The beauty of there being only tourists in couples, is that everyone minds their own business and they are focused on relaxing. This Relais is truly divine!” commented the reporter.
Sebastiani did not listen to him, on the contrary, he relaxed so much that he ended up talking the ears off a couple of German women; a mother and her daughter. His idea was that he would get the 25-year-old daughter and Radeschi would get the mother.
“Of course,” Enrico commented, “in a parallel universe…”
The rest of the afternoon was spent peacefully between laughter and friendly conversations until, right before dinner, the various delegations of amateur astronomers from Tuscany, Lombardy and Emilia Romagna began to arrive. Most of them were to return to their homes right after the event.
By eight o’clock, more than fifty people had already gathered, in addition to other tourists who were staying at the glamping.
After a rich buffet and a lot of chatting about constellations, stars and other topics, which bored Radeschi to death, finally it was time to enjoy the spectacle in the sky; the night of shooting stars.
They had settled in the large open space in front of the villa on chairs, pillows, mattresses and blankets. The lights were turned off, except for a few candles that barely lit people’s faces. Everyone stood under what could be described as the magnificent spectacle of the cosmos.
The Chairman of the local association of amateur astronomers, Giovanni Pellegrini, a man in his seventies, skinny like a juncus plant, led the evening.
His laser pointer pierced through the sky as it singled out stars and constellations to the guests.
Each group had brought their own telescope and, so as not to arouse any suspicion, so did Radeschi and Sebastiani, who mounted the one that Mascaranti’s uncle had lent them.
Enrico was pretending to set it up when, during a break, Pellegrini approached them.
“You two are the ones from the Brugherio delegation, aren’t you?”
“Yes, my uncle is the Chairman,” Radeschi lied. “I’m just accompanying him, still learning.”
“Bravo! So then, remember that you have to point that thing towards the sky if you want to see something. Didn’t your uncle teach you anything at all?”
Sebastiani did not even pay attention to them. He was in deep conversation with Ingrid, the German woman’s daughter, while the mother cast unmistakable glances at Enrico, who was careful not to return the same glances. On the contrary, to get out of this situation, he completely got into character; the astronomical observer. He began adjusting the telescope as if he had always done this, unfortunately, he hit it with his elbow and, instead of Cassiopeia, he ended up pointing it towards the middle of the sea. The lens focused on a boat and a cold shiver ran down the reporter’s spine.
Enrico stood up, stiffened.
That awkward gesture was enough to divert Sebastiani’s attention from the young Teutonic woman and get him to approach his friend.
“What’s wrong? It looks like you’ve seen a ghost!”
“The ghost will be here soon, because I just witnessed a murder,” Radeschi announced in shock, but in a very low voice so that only the Deputy Commissioner could hear him.
“What are you raving about?”
A couple of people turned around to look at them.
“Forget it, we’ll talk about it later…”
The rest of the evening continued in a surreal manner amid Radeschi’s gloominess and the “ohhhhs!” of the people who sighted the shooting stars and expressed their wishes.
“Enrico, you can’t have really witnessed a murder.”
“Oh no? And what do you call it when someone is shot on a boat and he falls overboard?”
“I call it hallucination.”
“I assure you instead that it was all real. I accidentally lowered the telescope towards the sea and ended up witnessing this crazy scene! Not only that, I have already worked out a theory. They are Corsican smugglers who…”
“Yes, right,” Sebastiani cut him short. “And I’m the Black Corsair!”
The cop began to butter a rusk completely uninterested in Radeschi’s theory. They were having breakfast after having slept in separate rooms. Enrico alone in the Libertine’s suite, Loris with one of the German women, or maybe with both, who knows. Regardless, Enrico wasn’t in the mood to ask him. As for him, he hardly slept a wink, racking his brain on what he had seen and trying to figure out how to prove it. He had surfed the net with his smartphone in search of useful information and the only trace that could lead to something, even if the chances were low, was that of a drug smuggling deal. In the previous months, in fact, the Italian coast guard had seized a large shipment of marijuana in Follonica and arrested a couple of Corsican smugglers who had imported the drugs from the French island to the Italian coast. Maybe someone had started beating that track again?
However, a piece of the puzzle was missing in this theory; where could the goods have been hidden?
At that moment Anna popped in.
“Did you sleep well?” she asked.
“Divinely” smiled Sebastiani.
“Did you? Your face says otherwise…”
Radeschi didn’t respond. Obviously, it was difficult to hide those long sleepless hours, so he decided to take advantage of the moment to try and extract some information from her.
“Actually, I didn’t sleep much.”
“For something I’m writing about…” he lied. “In fact, maybe you can be of use to me.”
“Of course, fire away.”
“Are there any abandoned caves or farmhouses around here?”
Anna shook her head.
“I’m thinking of a fairly large place, where crates can be hidden…”
“Crates? What is this mystery?”
“Don’t worry,” Sebastiani jumped in. “This is just how Enrico is. Every now and then he gets these strange ideas and then…”
“Well, there could be a place like the one you are looking for, in fact,” Anna interrupted, as she started to think about it.
“Really? And where?”
Radeschi’s eyes were already sparkling.
“It’s on the coast, right after Marina di Scarlino, at the beginning of the panoramic route that leads to Cala Martina and Cala Violina.”
“What is this place?”
“It’s called Terra Rossa”.
“Go on, continue,” Radeschi urged her.
Anna sat down with them and started talking.
“You have to know that towards the end of the nineteenth century, one of the largest pyrite deposits in Europe was found just behind this town, on the hills of Gavorrano. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a cableway was built to bring this mineral directly to the Scarlino Scalo railway station. In brief, soon after that, Scarlino became one of the major mining terminuses in Europe. But railway transportation was soon insufficient and it was necessary to resort to ships. Thus, the route of the cableway was extended to the Terra Rossa terminal, right next to the sea, where the waters were deep enough to allow ships to dock at the concrete pier, which had been purposely built. Once the pyrite reached Terra Rossa, it was stored in a gigantic silo, which we can still see today. An underground tunnel then connected the silo to a second cableway, to transport the mineral to the pillar on the sea, where it was loaded. When, at the end of the ‘60s, docking became impractical due to the reduced capacity of the cove to receive the new larger merchant ships, thus making this business uncompetitive, this complex pyrite transport system got dismantled, and only land transportation was, from then on, pursued.”
“What remains of it today?”
“Everything, but it’s closed to the public. There is the marine dock, the gigantic pillars, the trolleys, the gallery… And, many crates could actually be hidden there…”
Radeschi turned around to look at the Deputy Commissioner.
“Don’t even think of it!” the cop snapped.
Enrico smiled. He knew that this was the right track and he also knew that, in the end, he would be able to convince his friend to go with him.
In fact, twenty minutes later, they were on board Sebastiani’s SUV, headed for Terra Rossa.
“I don’t know why I always let myself be persuaded,” the cop muttered, turning off the engine. “Here we are. As you can see, there is nothing but a metal fence and a closed gate.”
The reporter got out of the car to check it out.
“We certainly won’t let this stop us, will we? Come on, let’s climb over and take a look inside.”
Without waiting for a reply, Enrico climbed up the gate and jumped down onto the other side.
The cop reluctantly followed him, making sure that his light trousers and his cotton shirt did not tear.
They walked along a dirt path and soon found themselves in front of the brick pillars that Anna had described to them.
A rotating movement of the cigar indicated that the Deputy Commissioner agreed.
They continued their descent towards the entrance of the old tunnel, which was also protected by a gate complete with a padlock.
“End of the line, Enrico. We cannot jump over this.”
“No. But we can bust it.”
“What makes you think we’ll find something in there?”
“Logic; everything here has been abandoned, but this lock is still shiny because it’s brand new. Ergo, someone just replaced it.”
“You know very well; there are no coincidences in our profession!”
And in saying so, Radeschi grabbed a large stone and hit the lock with a series of strategic gestures until it busted open.
“Come on,” he said as he pushed the gate open and stepped into what looked like the entrance to an old abandoned mine.
Sebastiani sighed and followed him, nervously nibbling on the tip of his cigar.
Once inside, it felt like they were set back into one of Indiana Jones’ movies; trolleys on rails, thick walls, and a deep and mysterious tunnel that opened up right before their eyes.
“You have to admit it. It’s suggestive, right?”
Loris limited himself to grimacing.
They were inside the tunnel carved into the rock with a few cracks in the ceiling that allowed for some light to get in. On both sides, there were a series of old trolleys originally used to transport pyrite, the gold dust of the ore still glistening on the ground.
Radeschi cautiously stepped forward, taking a video of everything with his cell phone. This reportage would make it big on his website MilanoNera.
He started checking the contents of all the trolleys. In the first, nothing. In the second, nothing. But when he checked the third, he stopped.
“We found it,” he announced to Sebastiani. “There are enough drug bricks in here to satisfy the needs of a coffee shop in Amsterdam, for a whole year.”
The cop came over to take a look and the cigar quickly slid from one side of his mouth to the other.
He took his cell phone out of his pocket to dial a number.
“There’s no reception down here.”
In the meantime, Radeschi had begun checking the other trolleys as well and had found that there were yet more surprises.
In the sixth trolley, two glassy eyes awaited him, staring at him motionlessly. The eyes of the man who had been shot the night before. Enrico was sure, not only because the man was still all wet, but because he had, above all, a bullet hole right in the middle of his chest. They must have fished out the body so it wouldn’t end up on shore…
He was about to communicate this new discovery to his companion when, from the end of the tunnel, a stranger appeared who, without ceremony, began shooting. Radeschi and the cop crouched down to the ground. They were unarmed and trapped. Bullets whistled overhead and ricocheted off the walls of the tunnel.
“Why do I always end up in situations like this when I listen to you?” the Deputy Commissioner snapped.
No sensible answer came to the reporter’s mind. All he could think of was that, between the alcohol and the mosquitos, it was that bastard, Mascaranti, who had come up with the idea of this trip…
The stranger moved in closer, holding them at gunpoint.
“Get up,” he ordered in a French accent.
They obeyed, staring at the man who pointed the gun at them. A man in his fifties, bald, sunburned skin and muscular arms covered with tattoos.
Radeschi instinctively shoved one of his hands into his pocket and, thinking to himself, thanked Anna for the gift.
“Hands up and no tricks!” shouted the smuggler. “Or you’ll end up like that traitor in the trolley!”
“Don’t worry, we’ll do what you say,” Sebastiani replied.
The Corsican approached threateningly.
“Take your hand out of your pocket!”
Radeschi smiled and nodded.
“No worries, there’s nothing there,” he said pulling out his clenched fist.
“Open your hand!”
The reporter acted on instinct and, luckily for him, Sebastiani had already caught on to everything.
Anna’s chili peppers, which he still had in his pocket from the previous day, ended up in their attacker’s eyes, blinding him as the policeman punched him, first in the stomach and then in the face.
The pistol fell to the ground and Sebastiani blocked the Corsican by twisting his arms behind his back.
“Woe, you’re still athletic for someone your age!” Radeschi commented sarcastically.
“And you’re a fool to attempt a move like that against a man who’s pointing a gun in your face!”
The reporter smiled. It was not a compliment, but it was certainly recognition that he had done a courageous thing. The courage of the unconscious, albeit, but still courage.
“What would life be without a pinch of spiciness?”
Sebastiani grunted something that Radeschi interpreted as an insult, and,
without further ado, he dragged the prisoner out of the tunnel where he could finally call the police and hand the killer over to justice.
It was long past lunchtime when they returned to BeVedetta, but Anna was waiting for them with a smile.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” she asked.
“Yes, thanks to your advice,” Sebastiani replied.
“I’m glad. Unfortunately, the kitchen has already closed but if you like, I can prepare you some spicy hot spaghetti seasoned with my organic oil.”
“That would be great!” Radeschi commented with a smile. “Your hot chilli peppers have already saved our lives once today!”
“And how’s that?”
“Oh nothing,” Sebastiani minimized, glaring at Enrico. “We can’t wait to savour your pasta!”
“You two are hiding something from me.”
The Deputy Commissioner’s cigar slid from one side of his mouth to the other.
“You’re right, we haven’t told you the truth. In actual fact, we are not amateur astronomers from Brugherio!”
Anna and Enrico burst out laughing and, even more incredibly, the Deputy Commissioner also put on a half smile. Finally, he and Radeschi felt relaxed and their much desired, as well deserved, holiday could now begin!