Book Extracts
  • Involuntary Witness by Gianrico Carofiglio
  • Gianrico Carofiglio |  Involuntary Witness
Involuntary Witness by Gianrico Carofiglio

Part One

I well remember the day – or rather the afternoon –
before it all began.
I’d been in the office for a quarter of an hour and
had absolutely no wish to work. I had already checked
my e-mails and the post, straightened a few stray
papers, made a couple of pointless telephone calls. In
short, I had run out of pretexts, so I’d lit a cigarette.
I would just quietly enjoy this cigarette and then
start work.
After the cigarette I’d have found some other
excuse. Maybe I’d go out, remembering a book I had
to get from Feltrinelli’s that, one way or another, I’d
too often put off buying.
While I was smoking, the telephone rang. It was the
internal line, my secretary ringing from the waiting
She had a gentleman there who had no appointment
but said it was urgent.
Practically no one ever has an appointment. People
go to a criminal lawyer when they have serious, urgent
problems, or at least are convinced they do. Which
comes to the same thing of course.
In any case, in my office the routine went as follows:
my secretary called me, in the presence of the person
who urgently needed to see a lawyer. If I was busy – for
example, with another client – I made them wait until I
was finished.
If I was not busy, as on that afternoon, I made them
wait all the same.
I wanted them to know that this office is for working
in, and that I receive clients only if the matter is
I told Maria Teresa to inform the gentleman that I
could see him in ten minutes, but couldn’t spare him
much time because I had an important meeting.
People think that lawyers often have important
Ten minutes later the gentleman entered. He had
long black hair, a long black beard and goggling eyes.
He sat down and leaned towards me, with his elbows
on the desk.
For a moment I was certain that he would say, “I
have just killed my wife and mother-in-law. They’re
downstairs in the back of the car. Luckily I have an
estate car. What are we going to do about it, Avvocato?”
Nothing of the sort. He had a van from which he
sold grilled frankfurters and hamburgers. The health
inspectors had confiscated it because hygienic conditions
inside it were pretty much those of the sewers of
This bearded character wanted his van back. He
knew that I was a smart lawyer because he had been
told so by one of his mates, a client of mine. With a
kind of sickening conspiratorial smirk, he gave me the
name of a drug pusher for whom I had managed to
negotiate a disgracefully light sentence.
I demanded an exorbitant advance, and from his
trouser pocket he produced a roll of 50,000- and
100,000- lire notes.
Please don’t give me the ones with mayonnaise
stains, I prayed resignedly.
He thumbed out the sum I had asked for, and left
me the confiscation document and all the other
documents. No, he didn’t want a receipt: what would I
do with it, Avvocato? Another conspiratorial smirk. We
tax evaders understand one another, don’t we?
Years before, I had quite enjoyed my work. Now, on
the contrary, it made me feel slightly sick. And when I
came across people like this hamburger merchant I
felt sicker still.
I felt I deserved a meal of frankfurters served by this
Rasputin and to land up in Casualty. In wait for me
there I would find Dr Carrassi.
Dr Carrassi, second-in-command in the Casualty
Department, had killed off a 21-year-old girl with
peritonitis by misdiagnosing it as period pains.
His lawyer – yours truly – got him off without the loss
of a day’s work or a penny of his salary. It wasn’t a
difficult case. The public prosecutor was an idiot and
counsel for the family a terminal illiterate.
When he was acquitted, Carrassi gave me a hug. He
had bad breath, he was sweating and he was under the
impression that justice had been done.
Leaving the courtroom I avoided the eyes of the
girl’s parents.
The bearded character left and I, choking down
nausea, prepared the appeal against the confiscation
of his precious meals-on-wheels.
Then I went home.
On Friday evenings we usually went to the cinema,
followed by dinner in a restaurant, always with the
same bunch of friends.
I never took any part in choosing the cinema or
the restaurant. I did whatever Sara and the others
decided and spent the evening in a state of suspended
animation, waiting for it to end. Unless it turned out to
be a film I really liked, but that happened increasingly
When I got home that evening Sara was already
dressed to go out. I said I needed at least a quarter of
an hour, just time for a shower and change of clothes.
Ah, she was going out with her own friends, was she?
Which friends? The ones from the photography
course. She might have told me earlier, and I’d have
got myself organized. She’d told me the day before
and it wasn’t her fault if I didn’t listen to what she said.
Oh, all right, there’s no need to get in a huff. I’d have
tried to arrange something for myself, if I’d had time.
No, I had no intention of making her feel guilty, I only
wanted to say just exactly what I had said. Very well,
let’s just stop bickering.
She went out and I stayed at home. I thought of
calling the usual friends and going out with them.
Then it seemed to me absurdly difficult to explain why
Sara wasn’t there and where she had gone, and I
thought they would give me funny looks, so I dropped
the idea.
I tried calling up a girl who at that time I sometimes
used to see on the sly, but she, almost whispering into
her mobile, told me she was with her boyfriend. What
did I expect on a Friday? I felt at a loose end, but then I
thought I’d rent a good thriller, get out a frozen pizza
and a big bottle of cold beer and, one way or another,
that Friday evening would pass.
I chose Black Rain, even though I’d already seen it
twice. I saw it a third time and still liked it. I ate the
pizza and drank all the beer. On top of that I had a
whisky and smoked several cigarettes. I flipped
between television channels, discovering that the local
stations had taken to showing hard porn again. This
made me realize that it was one in the morning, so I
went to bed.
I don’t know when I got to sleep and I don’t know
when Sara came in, because I didn’t hear her.
When I woke next morning she was already up. I
took my sleepy face into the kitchen and she, without a
word, poured me a cup of American coffee. Both of us
have always liked American coffee, really weak.
I took two sips and was just about to ask her what
time she had got back the night before when she told
me she wanted a separation.
She said it just like that: “Guido, I want a separation.”
After a long, deafening silence I was forced to ask
the most banal of questions.
She told me why. She was perfectly calm and
implacable. Maybe I thought she hadn’t noticed how
my life had been in the last . . . let’s say two years. She,
on the other hand, had noticed and she hadn’t liked it.
What had humiliated her most was not my infidelity –
and the word struck me in the face like spittle – but the
fact that I had shown real disrespect by treating her
like a fool. She didn’t know if I had always been like this
or had become so. She didn’t know which alternative
she preferred and perhaps she didn’t even care.
She was telling me that I had become a mediocrity
and may have been one all along. And she had no wish
to live with a mediocrity. Not any longer.
Like a real mediocrity, I found nothing better to do
than ask her if there was someone else. She simply said
no and that in any case, from that moment on, it was
no business of mine.
This conversation didn’t last long after that, and ten
days later I was out of the house.

  • Gianrico CarofiglioInvoluntary Witness