Porca madonna, try to take a weekend free out of town and everything goes crazy. Well, it was Friday the 13th and Full Moon --if I was superstitious I should have expected it. The Precinct called me back early from Rome Saturday morning, usually my day off, but a staggering collection of voice mails and SMS's and police reports were already stacked up and waiting for me.

It seems that Friday evening had started out bad enough with Montevecchio's school soccer team losing 3-33 to La Destinazione on our very own home field, mind you. Then the earthquake. Then a boy killed- accident, murder? A kidnapping attempt reported. Mysterious Agents In Raincoats supposedly involved. No clues at all. Incredible blunders during the police investigation, allowing all the suspects to leave town. The most likely murder suspect may just be a 9-year old kid. Actually, according to my research, the entire town of La Destinazione should be considered under suspicion.

Well, I am the Ispettore Superiore of the Polizia di Montevecchio, so it's my job to sort it all out. I need to organize my thoughts. Here goes.

According to forensics the death of Luigi Fontana, a 17 year old member of that same winning soccer team from La Destinazione, took place in the hallway to the men's room of Ponti's Pizzaria about 10:45 Friday evening. Young Fontana was killed by one blow to the throat. His neck was broken and larynx crushed, it was a very hard blow. No weapon evident.

The only eyewitness statement we have is from Tazio dellaTerra, a 9-year-old boy, who was somehow an equal member of the much older boy's team. That he and the Fontana boy went to the men's room together has been verified by the other teammates, but none of them saw what occurred next.

Tazio's story is that "three perfectly identical Mysterious Agents" attacked them in the hallway. One hit Luigi with a hand-chop to the neck as the other two dragged Tazio outside, behind the Pizzeria. They intended to kidnap him, he claimed, but were scared away by the earthquake.

That's right, a funny little earthquake happened at exactly the same time and place, just to make things a little more interesting! This one had to be a freak of nature: extremely violent, three seismic shocks were felt all over town, but most damage was concentrated into one city block. Four buildings surrounding the epicenter partially collapsed, all commercial and industrial locations fortunately empty that time of night, so there were no casualties. Other material damage included three parked cars that had gone end-over-end, and the street itself-- up through which there had erupted several large boulders from deep underground. I saw it Saturday afternoon and it looked like a war zone, complete with bomb crater.

So we have to ask: is there a connection between the fatality and the earthquake? The only reasonable one anyone has come up with is that Luigi Fontana was killed by an unlucky fall when the earthquake hit, that would at least make sense.

But that's not what the dellaTerra kid told the police. He said that Luigi was murdered. Then again, he was very upset and most of what he said is unsubstantiated by other witnesses. No one else saw the three men. However, other boys had some equally useless statements to offer.

The entire soccer team had been questioned at the scene. After a few hours the officers judged that the boys were too upset-- and some too drunk --to be considered reliable witnesses. At 2:00 in the morning the entire team was allowed onto their bus and sent back home to La Destinazione.

I was handed the entire mess when I arrived at the station the next morning. I read reports and dealt with phone calls from superiors and to my officers in the field.

In the middle of all that I overheard someone talking about a soccer game the evening before, mentioning an especially impressive performance by a very young player. Something went click.

It seems that our murder witness, that boy Tazio whom I have yet to question, is a child prodigy of some kind. He is much younger than the other members of the team, and yet a far superior player. Although I was not at the soccer game last night, I've now heard several enthusiastic descriptions of it and have seen cell-phone video clips from spectators who were so impressed that they had to film what they were seeing.

The kid was phenomenal, all right. Although smaller than the older boys, he was twice as fast and maybe more than twice as strong. He was jumping over his opponents, doing summersaults and flips just to show off, easily kicking goals in with perfect accuracy, again and again. No end to his energy, go go go! The kid was unstoppable, no one had a chance against him.

I reviewed the videos of the game several times, seeing poor Luigi playing his last game of soccer, I studied his teammates for any suspicious signs. But they were all briefly-seen extras in the background, there was only one star of those videos, one player who overshadowed the entire team with his ability and raw energy.

It struck me that the Tazio kid is the real mystery here. Besides not being normal, he was also the last person seen with the victim, his version of events do not match up with anyone else's and he's definitely got the strength to break anyone's neck with a single blow.

Everything I was learning about this Tazio kid had me flashing that good old German word in my head: "Übermensch." Remember that word? Remember what they were like? I'm really looking forward to having a talk with that boy.

I asked the officers involved why they had not kept the team overnight for further questioning and was told that it had been debated, but that little Tazio had said he wanted to go home and the police had decided to let them. I was irritated that my men had simply obeyed the whim of a child, who might even be considered the most logical suspect in a murder case.

They argued that it seemed right at the time, and besides we knew where to find them all, we had school and home addresses. I assigned an officer to check those addresses online, find out what he could about the school team on Internet.

I went out to the (probable) crime scene, discovering that it had not been secured. The body had been taken to the morgue and the floor swept, as if it had been accepted that Luigi's death was an accident and not a homicide, simply because that was a more logical explanation than one under-aged witness's contradictory testimony. I almost lost my temper.

An innocent kid may have been brutally murdered, that is top-priority for me, but I soon had another motivation as well. Upon arriving at the Pizzeria I had a feeling-- call it a hunch -that something EVIL had passed through the place that night. Something monstrous.

I get those feelings sometimes and usually trust them. That's how I made inspector, solved lots of cases that way. Lola thinks I have a psychic talent, which I usually explain away as educated guessing based upon years of experience, although I do admit to having a talent for reading body language and can tell when people lie. But this feeling hit me while standing quite alone in the hallway. It vanished when I went outside, and was just as intense when I came in again, an odorless stink of evil.

So if that was a psychic experience, what was I reading? Was Tazio the evil one? Or perhaps 3 other mysterious strangers? I waited for some other clues to register, but the only thing I finally noticed was that my right hand kept making a "3" sign. Probably a coincidence, but maybe not.

Actually, the subconscious human mind is clairvoyant enough, it always fools me into believing what I need to know. And what I knew was to look beyond logical explanations this time.

I asked the officer who'd been researching the web what info he had for me and he said, "Niente." I was about to get grumpy and ask if I had to do everything myself when he went on to say, "And I mean absolutely nothing! The entire town of La Destinazione is a black hole as far as Internet is concerned."

That seemed odd, in today's linked-up world. But it was true, that town does not exist online. Nothing on Internet, no Welcome to Our City home pages, neither for the schools nor the Chamber of Commerce, no advertisements or Tourist Information web-sites whatsoever.

The thing is, I know that town exists, I've been there several times myself, it's only 50 kilometers away from here. But I can't find any documentation about the place. I discovered that it wasn't even on any map; Google Earth showed a fuzzy blank fog.

I 'd been there but couldn't remember anything unusual about the place, it's about as typical a small town as you can find in Italy. A church, some schools, a City Hall, some shops, a market, some restaurants... hmm, no hotels, now that I think about it. And it's odd that there's no Tourist Office, considering that just outside of town there was supposed to be some kind of Medieval Castle or historical ruin-site.

I started looking through Montevecchio's own historical archives for any mention of La Destinazione, and did find some going back to...well, the Renaissance, actually. Mysterious crimes have happened around the area but were apparently never solved. In fact, I was reminded of hearing about a multiple rape happening there about six years back. Some maniac raped 14 women in one day, right in front of everyone and got away with it. But I could find no official report of such an incident anywhere. On paper, La Destinazione is Heaven on Earth, nothing bad ever happens there.

I did manage to find an obscure reference to a "Villa della Strega" (Village of the Witch), which I believe might have been the name of that castle outside of La Destinazione. But it was mostly folk myths.

Luigi Fontana's funeral is to be Monday morning, his body already sent to the family. I am planning to be at the funeral as part of my ongoing investigation, but thought I should check out the town before then. Unofficially, just feeling it out, looking for the little bits of trivial information that often lead to big revelations.

Since it was unofficial, I invited my girl friend, Lola. "Let's take a Sunday drive." It was still the weekend we were supposed to have spent in Rome, aborted when I'd been abruptly called to work. I had told her about the investigation and how that town itself seemed to be part of some even greater mystery, so she knew what was going on.

"Unofficial you say, but you mean Undercover." She's a lawyer, a stickler for definitions.

"Esattamente. Are you in?"

"Si, Aldo. Sounds exciting, and maybe even romantic."

I have to brag about my girlfriend a little, can't help it. That a grizzled old cop like me (48) could win a smart young (32) beauty like Lola is the unsolved mystery of my investigative career. I'd been feeling like a used-up old fart after my divorce ten years before, but with Lola I'm young all over again.

So Sunday morning I put on my riding leathers instead of the usual suit and tie, dark sunglasses, cranked up my motorcycle, got Lola snuggled up nice and tight behind me, and off we roared: the stuffy old Ispettore now incognito as cool biker dude with his motorcycle mamma.

My bike is a police model Moto-Guzzi California 1064 cc, which I'd learned to love back when I was a motorcycle cop. It's the pursuit-tuned configuration, simply not available to civilians, but I'd obtained it through the caribinieri garage. It was offered as a "gift", but I paid for it with my own money, having had enough problems with corrupt officials without becoming one myself.

Lola likes to tease that my "Moto-Godo-o-o" is just a showcase for my potency, but she also likes to ride, so I tease back that I'll share my potency with her anytime.

There are only 50 kilometers between Montevecchio and La Destinazione, but they are not the easy kind. The Autostrada doesn't go that way, it's all mountainous switchbacks for 30 km, and then you take the dusty dead-end road to the left for another 20 km. up and up and up.

Because I had become aware of the town's status as "secret" I paid special attention to road signs. The first and only directional information I found was "La Destinazione 20 km" at the junction. But at least there was that one sign-this is Italy, sometimes there's not.

We were not the only traffic to La Destinazione, there was quite a bit for a Sunday, so it seemed a lot less secretive by the time we arrived up at the town itself. In fact, it was a charming little city with a very old center, a fantastic view over lush green vineyards below contrasting with the dry brown mountains of the Appennino Campano farther off in the distance.

A motorcycle is faster than a car on those roads, so we'd made the journey in little under an hour. It was still early in the day. It was also Sunday, so most shops were closed, but I wasn't here to shop. We looked around.

It was as I'd remembered, a simple small city with no surprising architecture, a modest little gothic Cathedral, a nicely preserved Renaissance-Age city hall like so many others, a rather pretty little piazza boxed in by buildings but with just enough room for local folk festivals. Lola had never been there before and considered it "cozy". She'd been expecting some creepy "Village of the Damned".

The town was so normal and unsurprising that I never realized what was different about it until Lola said, "This place seems to have been protected from the outside world." She was right, it was exactly as I remembered it-from 20 years before. It had not grown a whit, there was no modern suburban housing surrounding the old town, no Mall on the outskirts, no McDonald's anywhere. All three restaurants near the piazza served standard Italian cuisine, the only exotic eatery was a single Chinese restaurant near the Open Marketplace . It was a perfect little slice of Italy from the 1950's.

But then again, how weird was that? Dead-end road, off the beaten track, what to expect? Still no deep mystery here.

We had cappuccinos at one of the two sidewalk cafes on the piazza, people were friendly, evidently recognizing us as interesting strangers passing through. I started conversations, steering them toward questions about the town, the soccer team, and a kid named Tazio.

Of course any mention of the soccer team turned into a lamentation about Friday evening's tragedy, almost everyone in town seemed to know about it. They also knew who the slain boy was, simply because he'd been on the team. Everyone expressed sorrow, some more than others.

I tried to be casual when steering the conversations toward Tazio specifically, not wanting to sound like a cop. That happened to be easy because everyone knew him as the local soccer hero, or the local bike-racing champion, or the local inventor who was guaranteed to get rich soon, or the little boy who was too smart for the 4th grade and had to be bumped up to the Scuola Secondaria. But the more I learned, the less I could believe-- somebody had to be making this up! Little Tazio seems to be the epitome of all good boys . Good student, good athlete, helpful, courteous, kind. Boy Scout par excellence!

Lola was amused by my incredulity, "He sounds pretty suspicious, all right. Let's bust him for being too good and too smart."

I found that asking young people produced almost zero information, they knew nothing that wasn't in their cell phones, but many of the older folks had some very interesting historical myths about their town. Most of them concerned la Villa della Strega, the ancient castle up in the hills. They spoke of Satanic Agents and an Evil Baron that had lived up there. Horror stories, superstitious warnings, monster legends. But there were also stories about the divinely good Moon Angel, who had healed many townspeople, also from that same Villa.

Especially interesting to me was the answer I got when I asked, "Oh, by the way, can you tell me where a kid named Tazio dellaTerra lives?" And they said, "Sì signore, he lives up in the Villa".

We wandered around the town, asking questions. With so many mysteries to entertain us, it became a whole day's project. I observed that there were no old defense walls around the town, as in most Renaissance cities, nor any castle battlements. I asked an old man about it, who said that they were never needed because La Destinazione had never been attacked. "All the many wars in Italian history have simply passed on around this town, no army ever dared to involve us because we were under protection of Them up in the Villa." So the protection goes way back.

Further investigation of the town revealed that it may be old-fashioned, but it is also quite successful economically. The shops were obviously old establishments but the products they sold were modern-electronics, organic foods, digital entertainment. Vineyards covered the hills around us, modern wineries inside old warehouses. Inspirationally good city planning, whoever was in charge of this city knew what they were doing. I wished Montevecchio was so organized.

We went past the secondary school, students from which were on the soccer team that had been in Montevecchio Friday evening, resulting in Luigi Fontana's mysterious death. There were many bouquets of flowers at the main entrance, but we saw no mourners.

Our wandering through town brought us to where the streets end, and only a narrow, ruined and rutted dirt road led on up the hill and out of sight. La Destinazione is a town at the end of a paved road, and this shabby continuation of that road could only lead to the Villa, of course.

Asking about the Villa had invariably resulted in the advice, "...but don't go up there," or "'s very private property," and even "...No One EVER Goes There!" Most enigmatic was a very old grandma who said, "It's only two days since the Full Moon, not a good time just now, she still may be dangerous..."

So of course, we saddled up the Moto-Godo and roared on up that road to visit the Villa. Good plan, but we never made it.

The road was terribly rutted so we took it easy. The Villa was supposed to be 16 km up that road, but by the time we had gone 8 of them Lola began to fret. She was afraid, although of what, she wasn't sure. Finally she became hysterical and insisted that we stop.

I was frustrated and tried to argue that we were almost there, which sent her into a worse panic. Finally I realized that I had invited her along on an investigation working around a feeling I'd had that something genuinely EVIL had killed the Fontana boy. It suddenly occurred to me that I just might be dragging my wonderful Lola into real physical danger. So I turned around and drove back into town.

She was all right again in town, whatever had scared her was not there. I assumed that her hunches were just as valid as my own, so we stopped for a last cappuccino. I really had no more questions to ask in an unofficial capacity, knowing I'd be back the next day to observe the funeral.

But another couple was sitting at the café, almost right beside us, and they were talking. I must admit, I had tried to tune them out because the woman... that woman was the most stunningly beautiful blonde goddess I had ever seen, and there I was with Lola. I was struggling not to stare, but cazzo, was she belissima!

I compensated by studying the man: he was not good enough for her, in impressive physical form, but unsympathetic somehow. And not simply because I was instinctively jealous of any man possessing a woman like that. But when I observed that he was too eager to get her and she was politely trying to hold him at bay, I almost felt sorry for the poor guy. All this out the corner of my eye, while smiling to Lola.

Fortunately Lola was paying attention to things, she turned to the blonde woman and said, "Excuse me, did I hear you mention a student named Tazio?"

I'd been so perceptive of that woman's body language that I hadn't heard a word she was saying, but I finally did tune in on the answer.

"...I've just started teaching here, so I haven't met the boy yet, " (she was a foreigner, spoke Italian quite well but with a slight Scandinavian accent) "but Coach Carlo here has been telling me about him."

"Coach..?" I asked in amazement, "...of the soccer team?"

"Yeah." I saw that he was giving Lola the eye, which put things back into perspective. He could be jealous of me now.

"Were you in Montevecchio Friday evening?" I had to ask.

Coach Carlo gave me an angry look.

Lola smoothed it over, "We heard about your team's tragedy and offer our condolences. It must be terrible for you."

Carlo's frown became undone, and then he shrugged. "I guess everyone's heard about that by now. No, I wasn't there. Wish I had been.."

"Doesn't the Coach always go along with the team for a game?"

"Their bus driver was our assistant coach. I had other commitments that evening. Besides..."

I sensed what was coming, but waited for him to say it. "...besides, the team already has a mastermind I can't compete with."

"You mean Tazio?" I asked, knowing the answer.

Coach Carlo looked at me sharply, probably wondering just who the hell I was anyway. Finally he figured it out: "You're a cop, right?"

I wasn't about to lie, so I surrendered: "Sì, Inspector Aldo Garazzi at your service, and I'll be in town tomorrow to question people after the funeral. So if you should think of any useful inform..."

"Is Tazio suspected of something?" He sounded overeager.

"Not specifically" I admitted, "we still have to determine if the Fontana boy's death was accidental or not." I couldn't resist his eagerness, "But tell me, do you think Tazio is capable of...violence?"

I could read that the Coach wanted to make trouble for Tazio, it showed when he racked his brain to find fault with his star player, but he wasn't about to lie to the police. He shook his head, shrugged, "No. Tazio wouldn't hurt anyone. It's a shame really, such a good athlete but he's got no killer instinct."

"Does he ever get into fights?"

"No. Well, he did take down the school bully once, but so easily and carefully that no one got hurt. It was more a demonstration than a fight, some kind of Tai Chi, I suppose."

The beautiful blonde woman, whose name we eventually learned was Jytte and was from Denmark, spoke up: "I've only been here for a few days, and all I know about this Tazio person is what I've heard. But I hear so much- as if he's the most important man in town."

Carlo interrupted, "He's just a punk kid." The fool was jealous over a 9-year-old kid now.

"Maybe so, but I'd really like to meet him," Jytte said.

"Yes, me too," Lola agreed.

I was surprised by the intensity of the double-wave of jealousy that hit me, but recognized it as standard alpha male response to a threat against his territory-or his ego.

We couldn't talk on the motorcycle, but back at my apartment in Montevecchio Lola amusedly mentioned my "secret" reaction to the Danish girl. I tried to deny it but Lola's too smart for that. "Oh, I understand," she teased, "very pretty girl, quite nice and OH SO BLONDE. A typically horny Italian stud like you didn't have a chance." She could have played the jealous woman, but played another game instead. Usually Lola goes home to sleep in her own apartment on Sunday nights, but this time she spent the night, saying "Guess I'd better win back my man," which she did, admirably.

And I won her too, for she finally agreed to move in with me.

Just before sleeping she asked me, "Do you think Tazio killed Luigi?"

"Not really. But if not, why would he lie? The earthquake covered up a murder better than his story did."

"Maybe he isn't covering up," she reasoned, "maybe there really were Three Mysterious Evil Agents."


"And why would he kill Luigi anyway? They were teammates, maybe even friends, there's no apparent motive."

"Maybe simply because Tazio is an Übermensch, so superior to everyone that snuffing out their lives means nothing more to him than a moment's entertainment. I vaguely remember a case of someone like that in the very same town of La Destinazione about six years ago. Two murders, 14 rapes, motive was just for fun. Perpetrator never captured."

Lola lay quiet for a minute, then finally proclaimed, "He's innocent," and went to sleep.

"We'll see," I said to myself.

It's Monday. In a few minutes I'll be off to La Destinazione again, this time in official car and capacity, suit and tie, asking questions directly, making people nervous.

And I'll finally corner Tazio. Ask him some questions, see what kind of feel I get from him. Hmm, now I feel nervous.

If I'm lucky I won't run into Jytte Øgård, no use in tempting Fate. Besides, she wasn't any more interested in me than the Coach. I think it'll take a very superior man to win that woman. Too bad for her the most superior guy in town is far too young.

July 2009