The Vanishing Point
by Olga Wotjas
See Naples and die was one thing; see Naples and vanish was quite another.
There were barricades up now on the Via Partenope in the east, preventing anyone walking the Castel dell’Ovo where half the disappearances had occurred. The Riviera di Chiaia was also blocked at the west end, where the others had gone missing. The chief was in a frenzy, he knew his job was on the line, and he had officers engaged in a fingertip search of both areas.
Laurito, not only a policeman but also a keen amateur photographer, had an embryonic theory, but it wasn’t one he was prepared to share. The chief wasn’t known for indulging flights of fancy. But Laurito couldn’t stop thinking about vanishing points. He went home and buttonholed his son, who got consistently high marks in maths.
“If you solve a problem for me, I’ll get you that computer game you want. See these two points here? What point links them?”
His son did the necessary calculations and located the top floor of an old palazzo. Laurito headed over there and stopped at the neighbourhood bar for an espresso zuccherato and some background information.
“His name’s Sir William Hamilton,” said the middle-aged waitress. “He’s an English milor, but he gets upset if you call him that.”
“Trying to be a man of the people, is he?”
“No, he’s a milor, all right. He gets upset if you call him English. He’s married but you never see her. Keeps her locked up for fear of her running off with one of our handsome lads.” She eyed Laurito critically. “He’ll probably let you in.”
The milor let him in, and Laurito was relieved to find he spoke Italian. “Dreadful business, officer, all these people simply disappearing off the face of the earth. I haven’t the faintest idea what I can do to help, but if you think there’s something ... ”
“I’d like to look out of your windows,” said Laurito.
“Be my guest.” Sir William took him into a small kitchen with a window overlooking the bay. Laurito peered out. He could see straight down from the Via Partenope to the barricades but his view to the right was blocked.
“Could I see next door?” he asked.
“Certainly.” Sir William led him into a bedroom, which Laurito noted was entirely masculine, with no sign of a woman’s presence. He went to the window, but still couldn’t get a clear view to the right.
“Sorry, I need to go to the next door room.”
Sir William’s expression changed. “My wife is next door. She’s unwell. Not to put too fine a point on it, she’s dying.”
Laurito, taken aback, murmured something he hoped was appropriate.
“That’s why we’re here,” Sir William went on. “I wanted to get her away from the dreadful Scottish climate. The light here makes her feel better, so at least her last days will have been eased.”
“Of course I don’t want to disturb her,” said Laurito. “But would it be at all possible for me to go in briefly to have a look?”
Sir William sighed. “You’ve got a job to do. I understand.”
He opened the door. “Darling?” he called softly. “You’ve got a visitor. He’s come to see the beautiful view from your window.”
“How lovely,” came a faint voice. “Do bring him in. My beautiful view.”
Laurito felt his breath suspend as though he had fallen into the bay itself. The walls were entirely covered in mirrors, reflecting a dazzling scene that was simultaneously more real and less real than the one beyond the wall of glass. By the window, lying on a day bed, was a pale woman swaddled in a satin quilt.
Laurito, still disconcerted by the dual image, made his way to the huge window. “Forgive the intrusion – I won’t be a moment,” he said, feeling he shouldn’t look at the dying woman.
“My beautiful view,” she repeated.
Laurito looked out. This was it. When he stood just here, he saw the two vanishing points. At both barricades, there was activity. Police cars were arriving, sirens on, lights flashing, officers jumping out and standing in irresolute little groups. He was aware of other noises, like voices, as though they were in the room with him.
“The neighbours below,” said Sir William. “They play their television much too loud, but my wife says she enjoys it - it’s company.”
Laurito could almost imagine that he heard the voices calling, calling names: Paola, Vincenzo, Giovanni.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’m sorry to have intruded.”
“Got what you came for?” asked Sir William as he showed him out.
“You’ve been very helpful,” said Laurito. He knocked on the door of the flat below, but there was no answer. The woman in the bar said it was unoccupied. Laurito decided it was time for a search warrant.
“Oh, God, do you think he knows?” asked Sir William’s wife.
“He can’t possibly know,” said Sir William, hauling a tripod and camera from underneath the day bed. “But he’s a smart biscotto. I’m sure he suspects something.”
“Oh, William, are you certain this will work?”
“Not certain, my darling, but hopeful. Ever hopeful. Let us have faith.”
Sir William set up the camera and watched Laurito walk across the piazza, then go into a street where he was hidden from view. Sir William counted carefully. He focused the camera and pressed the shutter.
“Tell me!” said his wife.
Sir William brought her the camera and showed her the image on the screen. “There. Success. So now we can capture them at any vanishing point, whether we can see it or not. Isn’t technology marvellous?”
He laid down the camera and held her in his arms. “All that blood, my darling. You’re going to be better in no time.”
And another faint voice was added to those behind the mirror, Laurito calling out for his wife and son.↑