Red Christmas, Page 1Quelli di ZEd
Carmelo Massimo Tidona
Translation from Italian to English by
Carmelo Massimo Tidona
for Zed Lab
Copyright © 2013 Zerounoundici Edizioni
Copyright © 2013 Carmelo Massimo Tidona
Cover: image courtesy of Victor Habbick /FreeDigitalPhotos.net
He advanced across the room in an unsteady crawl. His face was reddened, but in the dark there was no way to notice, even though the light coming from the street below was enough for his victim to see him getting closer.
Knowing that he was coming, though, was useless while being with the back to the wall and too terrorized to even try a defence. The only hope was that, whatever was going to happen, it would end soon.
The silence that had dominated the room was now violated by apparently meaningless words, a mixture of obscenities and almost childlike flattering.
Then he came, and the red of the Santa Claus costume mixed with the red of blood.
Red was the dominant colour. Metalized and shiny on the balls dangling from the tree. Scarlet on the decorations on the fireplace and on the walls. Vermillion for the candles placed on the furniture. The bright red of the costume's fabric and dark red, so dark as to almost seem black, on the fake white beard of its wearer, whose brightness had been snuffed forever.
Looking up from the disarranged corpse to the mirror, I was struck by the crimson reflection of my lips, paradoxically matching the setup.
As a last touch, it was junior inspector Rossi's voice to interrupt my observations.
I turned. Contrary to everything else, the man was pale like a ghost. He had been transferred to the homicide squad too recently, some more time would pass before he got accustomed to such scenes.
«Did we find anything?» I asked. He lifted a gloved hand and showed me a transparent plastic evidence bag. Inside it, there was a bloodstained razor.
«The usual», he answered.
«Send it to the lab and tell them to check whether there are prints or anything», I told him, already knowing that they would find nothing. The same nothing they had found investigating on the three previous homicides. This was the fourth gutted Santa Claus this month, and there were still two weeks before the 25th. There was time for more.
«And all this right at...» Rossi started to say. My scowl killed his sentence on the spot. I knew what he was about to say, and he should had known better than to say it.
No one knows me so well as to know why I hate Christmas, but everyone who knows me even a bit is at least aware that I rather pretend it doesn't exist. Better to be fully involved in my work, even when it means homicides, than to think about the lost chances of a family that, thanks God, stopped existing long ago.
Rossi turned and left the room in silence. I resumed looking at the body. I knew his generalities, but in that padded costume, under that beard, anyone could have been hidden.
I was the last to leave the crime scene, to make sure that everything had been done properly, and I found myself crossing the city after dark. Or, at least, that's what it should have been.
Streets that were normally barely lit by the yellowish light of tired lampposts, in that period seemed almost aflame because of the intermittent lights placed in every possible corner. Lumps of light bulbs dangled between buildings in shapeless compositions, or at times spelling season greetings in several languages. A cacophony of yellows, greens and blues reflected in the shop windows and in the car mirrors, rhythmically replaced by the unavoidable red that formed most of the signs.
People went in and out of shops, crowding in front of the boutiques of the most prestigious names, as if the economical crisis was but a distant memory. It didn't matter whether, in order to buy an expensive wallet as large as a stamp, they would be left with nothing that could be put inside it.
At a corner between two streets, a still alive Santa was ringing a bell to draw customers to a toy shop. I stopped not far from him, forced by a pedestrian crossing, and stood looking at him until my memory regurgitated something that stank of alcohol and sweat. Then I turned back to the road and pressed the pedal.
I reached the precinct during a shift change. Several agents greeted me when I came across them, others fled with feigned indifference, maybe believing I could prevent them from leaving.
I stopped Rossi in the middle of the corridor.
«All done?» I asked him.
«Yes, inspector, the evidence is at the lab. I left the report in your office for your signature.»
«Good, see you tomorrow then», I dismissed him.
A few minutes later I was sitting at my desk, reading the case documents. The files of the three previous victims where close at hand, but they were of little use at the moment.
The report couldn't tell me anything I didn't know already. The victim had been assaulted in his house, there were no signs of tampering on doors and windows, neither signs of a struggle or evidence that he had tried to defend himself. It had been the same for the previous two. Only the first of the whole series had been killed in the street and had struggled, or at least tried to. He was also the only one who had been found wearing just half of a Santa Claus costume. The other half had been around his ankles.
The murder weapon was a common barber razor, of those with a replaceable blade. Four victims, four razors, now four useless evidence samples. If we had been in a TV serial, there would have been just a single shop in Italy selling that kind of razor, and for sure it would have also been the only shop in the whole world keeping a precise record – including name, surname and address – of each and all of its customers, including occasional ones.
But in reality things were different, and the killer had never left any trace, I knew that all too well.
I repressed a yawn and looked at the clock on the wall. It was useless to stay any longer, I had done all I could.
The trip back home was through another river of lights and festoons, and I sighed of relief when I was finally able to close the door of my house behind my back.
In my flat, from which curtains and shutters banned the pulsing lights of the decorations, the only hint to Christmas were the photos of the first three victims, pinned to a corkwood board. They weren't there because there was anything more I could learn by studying them, but as a memo of what I was doing. Looking at them gave my job a meaning.
I reached the wall and pinned there the fourth photo, in line with the others.
That macabre exhibition represented my Christmas more that any tree or nativity could have done. It expressed in the best possible way what I had come to expect from Christmas, in a house in which even the best intentions ended up turning into something sordid. Not gutted corpses, of course, but for a little girl, and not only for her, some things that go bump in the night are worse than death. My father's, for instance, had been a kind of liberation for me.
The following morning I went to work early. The powers that be had decided to call forth an expert on serial crimes, and I wanted to be already there before he arrived, even though I didn't really think he had anything to teach me.
In the grey morning, the decorations lost any semblance of life, going back to show themselves for the mass of plastic, paper and light bulbs they were. There are those who need darkness to do their job best.
The Santa Claus of the toy shop, or his replacement, was sitting on the entry stairs. With his beard pulled down under his chin, he was smoking a cigarette, maybe waiting for open
ing time when he would have to start ringing the bell again.
I parked in my reserved place, left my jacket in the car and went upstairs.
Rossi intercepted me in the corridor.
«Inspector, there are news from the lab. They found a partial fingerprint on the razor.»
I looked at him in amazement, wondering whether such mistake was really possible.
«Not yet, they are still working on it. Ah, the psychologist is here, in the meeting room.»
I whispered a curse word. I wanted to go to the lab, but this forced me to delay the visit. I couldn't miss the meeting.
I told Rossi to follow me and joined the rest of the squad in the meeting room. The photos, just like the ones I had home, where red stains on the whiteboard, held by coloured magnets that seemed to make fun of the portrayed victims.
The man, short and stocky, was already talking. I gestured for him to go on and don't mind my presence.
«We were saying of the triggering cause. Usually there is something that leads to the first kill, the rest is a chain reaction. Often it may be an unrelated trauma.»
He paused and drew a circle with a red marker around the first photo.
«In this case, however, I believe that it might be related to the first victim. From what we see, he might have been an exhibitionist, maybe even a sexual predator.»
«Two convictions for obscene behaviour, one for attempted rape», I interrupted. Before coming to teach us a lesson, he