It was a hot summer’s day in Rome, without even a breath of wind. On days like this, Franco Manera preferred to stay at home and drink chilled coffee.
Manera was a middle-aged man, neither good- or bad-looking, but one who attracted glances in the street because of his height.
In the last two years he had put on a few kilos, perhaps because he had stopped exercising when he had quit the state police to open his own investigation business, “La Volpe”.
Business hadn’t always been good, and lately he had mostly been working on small jobs, such as finding missing pets. Cases like that bored him, but they were the only way he could be sure of making enough to pay his rent.
Franco hauled himself off his old couch and headed for the kitchen. But as he was about to open the icebox door, the phone began to ring.
He made haste to answer it. A deep male voice asked:
«Am I speaking with Detective Manera?»
«That’s me. Are you calling about the missing dog? All I can tell you is that I’m working on it, and that I’m sure I’ll get Pallino back.»
«Actually, I’m phoning about something much more serious. My name is Giovanni Della Torre, son of Contessa Fernanda Della Torre. Have you heard of her?»
«Of course» lied Franco, who had not the slightest idea who the Contessa was, and cared even less.
«I’m calling because last night my mother’s house was robbed again! A valuable painting, which has been in our family for generations, was stolen.
I’m sure it was our maid, but I don’t have any proof.
I’d like you to come over to see for yourself. We live at 21, Via Merulana. A large, old building, with statues of lions at the entrance.
Please, help me find the thief. I’ll pay you well.»
As Franco wrote down the address in his diary, he was visualizing the house.
He knew the area very well. There were a number of historic buildings, the famous Brancaccio theatre, and lines of imposing trees on each side of the street. The house the man had described was the last in the street, hidden between two great trees, with windows that always seemed closed.
«When do I start?» asked Franco.
«Can you come round as soon as possible?» begged Giovanni Della Torre.
Franco lied: «I’m not sure how soon I can make it. I’ve been very busy lately, working on some important cases.»
Actually, the only thing that he really had to do was to take his cat to the vet’s.
«Would Friday at 6 be OK?» suggested signor Della Torre.
«Fine» nodded Franco «I’ll be there. »
After the call, Franco fetched his laptop and went back to sit on the couch.
He switched on the computer and connected to the Internet. He’d start work on the case by looking up Contessa Della Torre.
From the Internet Franco discovered that the Contessa was an old woman, many years widowed, who lived in an enormous house with her maid.
She had two children, Giovanni, who had phoned a short while before, and Carlotta, who was married and lived in England.
Unfortunately Franco was unable to find out anything else about the Della Torre family.
As he continued looking, his ginger cat jumped, miaowing, onto his knee.
The cat had been a birthday gift from his girlfriend, Ginevra. Because Ginevra was an art lover, they’d decided to call him Giotto, after the painter.
«Come on, Giotto. Time to go to the vet’s» said Franco.
He put away his computer, picked up Giotto and left the flat.
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