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Read a second excerpt from Jeffrey Archer’s Who Killed the Mayor

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After dismissing a false confession from truffle scion Pietro De Rosa the day before, who claimed to have stabbed mayor Dino Lombardi with his truffle knife, next on Antonio Rosetti’s list of possible suspects was local oil producer Olive Mario Pellegrino. High-quality oil was with the truffles and local wine, one of the three pillars of the city’s wealth, and the vile Signor Lombardi had imposed heavy taxes on sellers and buyers after threatening to rise to power in the picturesque town of Cortoglia, in southern Italy.

Antonio left the police station just after breakfast and headed for the olive oil shop in the town square, glad to have to walk past the pharmacy that had been snatched up by the young woman who ran it the previous afternoon.

He slowed as he approached the store and looked out the window. She was standing by the door, turning the closed sign to open, and looked up as he passed. They exchanged a glance before he continued running. When Antonio arrived at the olive oil shop, Mario Pellegrino was waiting for him at the door, having placed a giant festive wreath made of olive branches and sparkling stars in the window.

“Good morning, Lieutenant,” he said. “Have you come to buy a bottle of the best olive oil or is it a police raid?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t call and make an appointment, Signor Pellegrino, but…” Antonio said as he followed him into the store. “You expected to take me by surprise,” Pellegrino said. “But I have to tell you, Lieutenant, I’m not surprised at all.”

“You were waiting for me?” Antonio said as he stood next to the counter and took the pad and pen out of it.

“Yes, everyone knows you’ve been sent from Naples to investigate Lombardi’s death, and I figured I’d be among the first people you’d want to question.”

It’s no secret that he hated that man. So if you were going to arrest me, the last thing you would do is call and make an appointment, because that would give me plenty of time to get away.”

Antonio put down his pen.

But why would you want to escape, Signor Pellegrino?

“Because everyone knows that I murdered Lombardi, and I realized that it wouldn’t take long for a smart young detective like you to figure out who the killer was.”

But why would you want to kill the mayor? Anthony asked.

“He was ruining my business with his protection racket and extra taxes. And if that wasn’t enough, I was demanding bribes from my buyers, some of whom began to avoid the trip to Cortoglia because they feared they would be next. Another year and I would have had nothing to leave the children.”

Pellegrino stood up and stretched his arms out on the counter as if he expected to be handcuffed.

“Before I arrest you, Mr. Pellegrino,” the policeman said, “I need to know how you killed the mayor. Pellegrino did not hesitate. “I strangled the damn man,” he said.

“Just a minor issue,” Antonio replied. I’m afraid Lombardi wasn’t strangled by you, or anyone else.

“Too bad. But since I would have liked to strangle the man, can’t they charge me with attempted murder and that will solve all our problems?”

“Except for the problem that the culprit will still be on the loose,” Antonio said. “Then if you would be so kind as to inform your friends that I intend to catch the real murderer and put him behind bars, I would be very grateful.” “I wonder if I could ask you a small favor,” Pellegrino said. “I was just wondering if you could tell me how the mayor was killed.”

The young policeman ignored the request and left the store.

Antonio was heading back to the police station to write another failed report, but he hesitated when he got to the pharmacy. He entered to find the young chemist, whom he had deduced to be Francesca Farinelli, daughter of Lorenz Farinelli, standing behind the tinsel-adorned counter, chatting with a customer.

“That should ease the pain, signora, but make sure you only take one pill a day before you go to bed. And if it doesn’t get better, come back and see me,” she said. Francesca turned to Antonio. “Is it my turn to be arrested, Lieutenant?”

“No, something much simpler than that. I’m out of toothpaste.

“You know, we have customers who buy soap, toothpaste, and razors at the same time, or are they just subtle police tactics to wear down the suspect and get her to admit that she killed the mayor?” Anthony laughed. “However,” Francesca continued, “if his plan was to simply ask me out for a drink after I get off work tonight, I might say yes.”

“Was it so obvious?” Anthony asked.

Why don’t we meet at Lucio’s house around six? “I’m looking forward to it,” Antonio said as he turned to leave.

“Don’t forget your toothpaste, Lieutenant.”

When Antonio returned to the police station, there was a large, burly man wearing a long white coat and a blue and white striped apron waiting for him outside the front door. “Good morning, Inspector. My name is Umberto Cattaneo.

“Lieutenant, Signor Cattaneo,” Antonio corrected.

“I’m sure, Lieutenant, the promotion won’t be far off when you hear what I have to say.”

“Please don’t tell me you killed the mayor?”

“Of course not,” said the butcher, lowering his voice. “However, I can tell you who killed Lombardi.”

Finally an informer, Antonio thought. He opened the station door and led Cattaneo into his small office.

“But before I know who the killer is,” Cattaneo continued as he sat down, “I need to make sure they won’t track me down.”

“You have my word on that,” Antonio said, opening his notebook. “That’s assuming we won’t need you to act as a witness when the case goes to trial.”

“You won’t need a witness,” Cattaneo said, “because I can tell you where the gun is buried.”

Antonio closed his notebook and let out a deep breath.

“But I haven’t even told you who the killer is,” Cattaneo protested.

‘Don’t be upset, Signor Cattaneo, because Lombardi wasn’t shot.

“But Gian Lucio told me that he had been shot. He even showed me the gun, ”Cattaneo insisted.

“Before I lock you both up for a couple of days, if only to keep you from wasting any more of my time, may I ask why you are so willing to arrest your friend for a crime? she didn’t get engaged?

“Gian Lucio Altana is my oldest and dearest friend,” the butcher protested.

“Then why charge him with murder?”

“Because I lost the draw,” Cattaneo said. “Did you lose the draw?” “Yes, we agreed that whoever won would turn himself in and admit that he had killed the mayor.”

“Then why hasn’t it been delivered?” Antonio said, unable to hide his frustration from him.

Signor De Rosa advised us against that. He said that there had been too many confessions already and that he believed that Gian Lucio would have a better chance of being arrested if you thought I was an informant.

“May I ask why Gian Lucio was so willing to be charged with a murder he didn’t commit?”

“Oh, that’s easy to explain, Lieutenant. Lombardi used to eat at Gian Lucio’s restaurant three times a day and he never paid the bill.

“That’s not a good enough reason to kill someone.”

“It’s when you lose all your regular customers because no one wants to eat at the same restaurant as the mayor. By the way, Lieutenant, was Lombardi electrocuted by any chance? Get out of here, Signor Cattaneo, before I’m arrested for murder.

It wasn’t a totally wasted morning, Antonio considered, because he was now sure that only he, Agent Gentile, and the killer had any idea how Lombardi had been murdered. But where was Gentile?

Antonio arrived at Lucio’s restaurant just before 6 pm, eager to see Francesca. He sat down at an outside table and placed a bouquet of flowers on the chair next to him, smiling as owner Gian Lucio joined him.

“May I offer you a drink, Lieutenant?”

“No thanks. I’ll wait until my guest arrives. And Gian Lucio,” Antonio said as the restaurateur turned to leave, “just to let you know that your friend, Signor Cattaneo, tried to have him arrested for murder this morning.”

“’I know, but then I won the draw,” Gian Lucio sighed.

Antonio kept looking across the square towards the pharmacy until he saw Francesca closing up. He saw her cross the square and immediately realized that it was the first time he had seen her without a long white coat. She was dressed in a red silk blouse, a black skirt, and a pair of heels that surely hadn’t been bought in Cortoglia.

He tried not to look at her. What else was different? Of course, she had let her hair down. He hadn’t thought it possible that she could be even more beautiful.

“Since you are a highly trained detective,” Francesca said as she sat down next to him, “you will know that my name is Francesca, whereas I am not sure if you are Antonio or Toni.”

“My mother calls me Antonio, but my friends call me Toni.”

“Does your family also come from Naples?”

“Yes,” Anthony said. “My parents are both school teachers.”

Francesca laughed. “Any brother or sister?”

“Just a brother, Darius. He is a lawyer. So once I’ve locked up the criminals, he puts on a long black dress and defends them. That way we keep it all in the family.”

Francesca laughed again. “Did you always want to be a police officer?” she asked, as Gian Lucio handed them both a glass of wine.

“Since I was six years old when someone stole my candy. But to be fair, if you were raised in Naples, you have to decide early which side of the law you’re going to be on. Have you always wanted to be a pharmacist?

“I first worked in the store at the age of 12,” he said, looking across the square, “and with the exception of four years at the University of Milan studying chemistry, it has been my second home. So when the owner retired, I took over.”

He paused: “How many people admitted to killing the mayor today?”

“Only one. The florist, Mr. Burgoni.

“So how did you eliminate Lombardi?” Francesca asked.

“He claimed he ran over him in his Ferrari and then backed up to make sure he was dead. Right here, in the town square.

“Sounds pretty convincing to me, so why didn’t they arrest him?”

“Because he doesn’t have a Fiat, much less a Ferrari, and besides, he doesn’t even have a driver’s license,” Antonio said, as he handed the flowers to Francesca.

“That way you can continue selling your flowers.”

The couple got up and began to walk across the square toward the pharmacy where Francesca had an apartment above the store.

“It won’t be long before I have to go back to my little flat in Naples,” Antonio sighed.

“Not if you don’t catch the killer,” he teased. When they got to Francesca’s door, she took out a key.

But before she could put it in the lock, Antonio leaned in and kissed her.

She smiled: “I hope to see you tomorrow.”

Antonio seemed taken aback until Francesca added, “I have a feeling it won’t be long before you need another bar of soap. By the way, Toni, some of our customers buy them in boxes of three, even six”.

  • Exclusively adapted by Jeffrey Archer for the Who Killed The Mayor’s Daily Express. His latest must-read thriller, next in line (HarperCollins, £22), with William Warwick, is out now. Lord Archer’s fee has been donated to give a book.



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