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Read the final part of Jeffrey Archer’s Christmas thriller

Third and final installment of Lord Archer

Third and final installment of Lord Archer (Image: Rob Murray)

The day started badly for Antonio Rosetti. He was studying the bulletin board, now covered in photographs with various crosses: the suspects had already been acquitted, each after confessing to the murder of the corrupt and deeply unpopular mayor of Cortoglia, Dino Lombardi. His thoughts were interrupted by Riccardo, the local postman, who came in and even before delivering the morning mail said, “I can’t take the stress anymore, Lieutenant. I have decided to turn myself in and admit that I was the one who murdered the mayor.”

“I was making a cup of coffee, Riccardo, would you like one?”

“Not before you arrest me.”

“Maybe later, but first a few questions.”

“Of course.”

“White or black?”

“Black, no sugar.”

Antonio poured a cup of coffee and handed it to the postman.

“How did you kill the mayor, Riccardo?” he asked, wasting no more time with preliminaries.

“I drowned him,” said the postman.

“At sea?” Antonio suggested, raising an eyebrow.

“No, in her bathroom. I took him by surprise.”

“It must have been quite a surprise,” Antonio said, opening his notebook. “Lombardi could not have drowned in a bath, because there is only one shower in
home.”

“At sea?” said the postman hopefully.

“‘Not an option. Especially since 11 other men have already confessed to drowning him at sea.”

Antonio, the only person in town who knew exactly how Lombardi had been murdered, closed his notebook. But nice try, Riccardo. More importantly, have I received any letters this morning?

“Yes, three,” said the postman, putting the opened envelopes on the table. “A card from your mother, that she can’t wait to meet Francesca and she hopes you’ll be home for Christmas. The second is from the Naples police chief who wants to know why you haven’t arrested anyone yet, and the third from your brother.

And what do you want? Antonio asked, ignoring the fact that the postman had tampered with the mail.

“Could you let him know as soon as you’ve arrested someone, and if they have some money, would you remember to recommend him?”

“Is there a secret in this city?”

“Only one,” the postman smiled.

Dinner under Christmas lights with Francesca Farinelli, the pretty pharmacist from Cortoglia, at Lucio’s restaurant was as public as an execution. If Antonio had even thought of taking her hand, he would have been front-page news in the Cortoglia Gazzetta. The couple had met after the disappearance of the local policeman and Antonio had been sent from Naples to investigate the murder.

“Do you never get bored of living in a small town?” she asked him after a waiter took his plates away.

“Never, I have the best of both worlds,” she replied.

“I can read the same books as you, watch the same television, eat the same food and enjoy the same wine at half the price. And if I want to visit an art gallery or buy some new clothes, I can always spend the day in Naples and be back in Cortoglia before the sun goes down.

“And maybe you haven’t noticed the magnificent hills or how fresh the air is, and when people pass by on the street, they smile and wave at each other.”

“But the bustle, the excitement, the variety of everyday life?”

“The traffic, the pollution, the graffiti, not to mention the manners of some of your Neapolitan compatriots who believe that women should only be seen in the kitchen or bedroom, and not necessarily the same woman.”

Antonio leaned across the table and took her hand. “Couldn’t I tempt you to come back to Naples with me?”

“During the day, yes,” Francesca said. But then I would like us to be back in Cortoglia by nightfall.

“Then you’ll have to keep murdering a few more of the locals.”

“Certainly not. One will be enough for the next hundred years. So who’s the last person who tried to convince you that they got rid of Lombardi?”

“Paolo Carraffini”.

“Whose wine we’re both enjoying,” Francesca said, raising her glass.

“And it will continue to do so,” Antonio said, “since Signor Carrafini’s attempt to prove that he murdered the mayor turned out to be the least convincing so far.”

“What was wrong with Lombardi falling through a hatch in the hold and breaking his neck?”

‘There’s nothing wrong with the idea,’ said Antonio, ‘it’s a pity Signor Carrafini had to raise the trap door before he could push Lombardi out. You should tell any other would-be murderer that he must be prepared for something to go wrong, even when he is innocent.”

“So, who’s next on your list?”

“I’m afraid it’s your father’s turn and he’s the last person I want to arrest. Although when it comes to motives, he is an obvious candidate.

“Why?”

“Because we know that Lombardi removed him as mayor, and within days of the murder, his father was back on the city hall.” Francesca leaned across the table and touched his cheek.

“Don’t worry, my father is not going to admit to the murder.”

“All the more reason to believe that he did.”

“Except in his case he has a cast-iron alibi. He was in Florence at the time, attending a local government conference.”

That’s a relief, assuming there are witnesses.

“Over a hundred.”

“More than enough. But if it wasn’t your father who killed Lombardi, I’m quickly running out of suspects. Although there’s still the mystery of the missing policeman, because Luca Gentile hasn’t been seen in Cortoglia since the day of Lombardi’s murder.” So he has a motive, as well as an opportunity.”

Though I suspect he knows who did it, which is why he won’t return to Cortoglia or resume his former duties until you’re safely in Naples.

“So I still have three more days before Christmas to surprise everyone,” Antonio said.

Antonio took her hand as they crossed
the square to Francesca’s house. When she opened the door this time, Antonio followed her inside.

The Naples police chief called Antonio the next day and asked if he was making any progress. “I can’t pretend I am, boss,” Antonio admitted. “To date,” he said, opening a thick file, “forty-four people have confessed to killing the mayor, and I’m pretty sure none of them are guilty. And what’s worse, I think everyone knows who murdered Lombardi.

“Someone will break,” said the chief. They always do it.

“This ain’t Naples, boss,” Antonio heard himself say.

“So who’s the last to confess?”

“Not one, but 11. The local soccer team claims Lombardi was pushed off a cliff and drowned in the sea.”

“And what makes you so sure they didn’t?”

“I interviewed all 11. The nearest shoreline is more than 40 miles away, and they couldn’t even agree on which cliff they pushed him over, where they pulled him out of the water, or how they managed to get him back to Cortoglia and tuck him into bed. . Frankly, I think it’s more likely that Lombardi would have pushed all 11 of them off a cliff before they got their hands on him.”

“All the more reason for you to come back,” said the boss. “Clearly, nobody is going to miss Lombardi in Cortoglia, because I just received a confidential message.
report from the Guardia di Finanza to let me know that the mafia expelled him. They felt that he was too violent.

“So if you haven’t figured out who murdered him by the end of next week, I want you to go back to Naples, where the real criminals still roam the streets.”

Over the next few days, the number of citizens who confessed to killing Lombardi rose to 51, and when the cacique called again from Naples to tell him to close the case, Antonio had to admit that the locals had beaten him, and accepted that perhaps the time had come to return to the real world. In fact, Antonio could have if the new mayor, Lorenzo Farinelli, hadn’t called him and asked to see him on a private matter.

He entered the room, surprised to find the entire council waiting for him. Signor Farinelli nodded to the empty seat at the other end of the table.

Once Antonio poured himself a glass of water and sat down, the mayor said, “We just finished our first meeting of the new council and we were wondering if you could update us on the progress of your investigation.”

“Although I don’t have sufficient evidence, Mr. Mayor, I’m pretty sure I now know who killed Lombardi. However, despite my suspicions, my boss has ordered me to close the case and return to Naples. Antonio could not have missed the collective sigh of relief from those seated around the table.

“I am sure that your boss has made a wise decision,” said the mayor.

“However, I confess that was not the reason we wanted to see you, Lieutenant. The policeman of our city, Luca Gentile, has recently contacted us to inform us that he will not return to Cortoglia for personal reasons, and the Consiglio voted to offer him the position of chief of police.

“The council has agreed that we should build a new police station, worthy of its status.”

“But…”

“And we would pay him the same as the Naples police chief,” Farinelli said.

“That is more than generous…” Antonio began. “However,” the mayor continued, “although we did not put it to a vote, there is something that worries us a lot. If you could marry a local girl…”

SEVERAL guests, including Antonio’s parents, arrived from Naples the morning of the New Year’s wedding of Antonio Rossetti and Francesca Farinelli. However, Antonio assured the mayor that they would all go home the next day.

The entire town turned out to witness the couple’s vows of eternal love, including several uninvited locals. When il Signor and Signora Rossetti abandoned the wedding celebrations to leave for Venice, Antonio suspected that the festivities would continue when they returned home in a fortnight’s time. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon in Venice, eating too many spaghetti alle vongole and drinking too much wine.

On the last night, Antonio sat up in bed and watched his wife undress. When she slipped under the covers to join him, he took her into his arms.

“It’s been the most wonderful fortnight, my dear,” said Francesca. “So many memories to share with everyone when we get back home.”

If you had come to Naples, Francesca,
I would introduce you to a restaurant or two that you might enjoy.

“Maybe I’ll come for lunch one day. Although I confess that I really want to return to Cortoglia.

“Though I still haven’t solved the mystery of who killed the last mayor,” Antonio said. “Now that I think about it, you’re the only person who didn’t confess to murdering Lombardi. I was going to ask for your alibi when I first visited the pharmacy.

She smiled, “But you seemed more interested in trying to pick me up.”

Antonio laughed, “So all I need to know, honey, is how did you kill Lombardi?”

“A spoonful of cyanide got into his coffee after dinner. A slow and painful death, but no more than he deserved.”

Antonio sat up suddenly and stared.

“And I don’t have to remind you, my dear,” Francesca continued, “that in Italy, a man cannot testify against his wife.”

  • 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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