The Body in the Piazza - By Katherine Hall Page


Faith Fairchild was drunk. Soused, sloshed, schnockered, pickled, potted, and looped—without a single sip of alcohol having crossed her lips. She was drunk on Rome. Intoxicating, inebriating Rome.

It had started before the plane had touched down when she glimpsed the sea—“Mare Nostrum,” “Our Sea,” the Romans had called it. Soon the coast gave way to towns, fields, and the green serpent that was the Tiber. On the bus from Fiumicino into the city, the views were not as spectacular, but there were occasional patches of brilliant roadside wildflowers and long rows of twisted pines—Respighi’s Pines of Rome—flashed by. Leaving the highway at the city limits, the streets narrowed abruptly. The flowers were in planters now outside stucco-sheathed apartments and shops painted just as she had imagined them—yellow ochre, burnt sienna, raw umber, deep rose—Italian Crayolas. Dense traffic had caused the bus to slow to a crawl, an imposing vessel upon a mighty ocean of motor scooters and tiny cars, darting perilously like schools of minnows into the oncoming traffic lane, honking as if the road had been usurped rather than the other way around. She’d laughed to herself at the host of metaphors Rome was already inspiring.

When the bus left the airport, it had been filled with the excited clamor of arrivals speaking so many different languages it was impossible to distinguish one from the next. As riders got off and others took their places, Italian dominated. They were probably talking about the weather or mundane problems at work or home, but their gestures, faces, and the musical quality of their voices suggested that they were debating Verdi versus Puccini or heady matters of state. Faith wished she had had time to study the language and vowed to sign up for at least an online course when she returned.

The bus stopped abruptly, immobilized by the traffic. “Could it always be like this?” Faith said to her husband.

Tom Fairchild shrugged, intent on maintaining the tiny perimeter of space they’d claimed on the crowded bus.

“Scusi,” a man next to Faith said. “This morning it is a, how do you call it, ‘strike’? Yes, strike by the trasporto workers. It will be over in a few hours. It’s very usual.”

“What are they asking for?”

“Tutti. Enjoy your stay.” He got off and was soon making faster progress on the sidewalk than he had been on the bus. “Tutti”—Faith knew the word—“Everything.”

She didn’t mind the delay. It gave her more time to look out the windows. By the time they reached their stop and she stepped onto the Corso Vittorio Emanuele’s sidewalk, her head was already filled with the sight of places she’d only seen in photographs, paintings, or on the screen. She’d grabbed Tom’s arm repeatedly at the views—St. Peter’s, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Ponte Principe—and now as she wheeled her small suitcase—for once she’d packed lightly—across the street and into the Campo de’ Fiori toward their hotel, she grabbed his arm again. If heaven were in any way a reflection of life on earth, the Campo de’ Fiori market had to be the model. Stall after stall was filled with the kinds of produce she’d only seen in the pages of glossy food magazines. Artfully arranged crates of ruby-red and pearl-white radicchio, shiny dark eggplants, silken orange zucchini blossoms, and shimmering silver-scaled fish, none of which had been sprayed with fixative or whatever else stylists used to achieve perfection for those photo shoots. One stall was filled with stacks of white porcelain, another with colorful pyramids of spices in cello-wrap. All she needed was a large basket—and a kitchen. She stood transfixed before a display of more kinds of mushrooms than she had ever seen in her life and knew that she’d have to come back to Rome, rent an apartment, and cook. For now—and why had it taken her all these years to get to the Imperial City?—she would have to be satisfied with just dreaming.

She glanced up and her eye was drawn to a rather forbidding-looking bronze statue of a hooded monk that towered incongruously over the bright white canvas umbrellas sheltering wares, and she made a note to check the guidebook. Who was the enigmatic figure? Rabelais—didn’t he spend time in Italy?—would have been more appropriate. But nothing seemed to be curbing the bustling crowd’s appetite, and Faith realized that the sight of all this luscious food had awakened her own. She was starving.

They’d boarded the plane in Boston at dusk last night. Faith had brought her own repast, a ciabatta