Soranzo walked out into the Piazza, into the warm(ish) spring sunshine.


Church bells ringing vaguely, somewhere.

Well before the mass tourism season starts, thank God, but the Piazza is always busy.

Still got the passerelle out, I see. Probably just as well; still a good few weeks until the acqua alta season is really over.

He strolled out in front of the basilica, past the three flagpoles, heading fairly aimlessly towards the far end, and the Correr. He took the precaution of having the Repubblica with him, which he hardly ever had time to read properly, except at weekends.

He found a spot in the sunshine, just across from the campanile, and perched on the edge of one of the stacks of passerelle. The Lavena cafe was more or less straight in front of him. Lavena was his favourite among the cafes of the Piazza, mainly because it wasn’t as self-consciously famous as the other two, and was the least likely to be infested by minor celebrities. Or rather, people who felt they ought to be major celebrities. But weren’t.

He opened the paper, and headed straight for the back half: arts, culture, food and travel. All the blood and mayhem on the front few pages could wait. Especially all the stuff about Mafia Capitale, endless stories about how the mafia had been infiltrating the corridors of power up on the Campidoglio. Now, there’s a surprise.

Just here, at Lavena: the band, sawing and plinking away. And just over there, at the Quadri, another bank, sawing and tinkling away. As usual: different tunes, different keys, different everything. Just think: they’ve been doing all that for around 200 years now.

Both doing well today, though, lots of punters.

His eye was caught by a couple sitting at one of the front row of tables at Lavena, the row furthest from the band. Not music lovers, perhaps. Better view of the Piazza from out there, anyway.

What caught his eye was not the couple, who were just sitting there chatting, with a bottle of Prosecco or something in an ice-bucket in front of them. No, it was an orangey-biscuit coloured little dog, which was standing on the ground in front of them, perched on its back legs, facing the couple and clearly trying –and succeeding – to get their attention.

Soranzo was not a dog person, although this one was undeniably cute, little tongue hanging out, panting slightly, tail wagging furiously. What’s it after? Cecchetti, probably; peanuts, maybe. Or those little bowls of assorted crunchy miniature biscuits that you always get in up-market bars?

Didn’t seem to have any obvious owner, though; must be in the Piazza somewhere. Yes, now they’re plying it with little bits of goodies all right. Tail wagging even faster.

Hello! What’s this? Two of them, now, there are. He blinked instinctively, and rubbed his eyes. Minchiata! No, not imagining it, two, identical. Canine twins. Wonder what the second one’s going to do for a party piece. Juggle, maybe. No, it’s just sitting there patiently, waiting for its turn at the goodies.

Soranzo glanced across towards the band-stand, for no particular reason.

Hmm. Usual throngs of tourists strolling up and down under the colonnades (Procuratie Vecchie, since you ask.)

What’s that? Looked like someone moving, trying to get out of sight behind that column. Kids, playing, perhaps? No, don’t think so, too tall. Probably imagined it.

He stood up, and strolled a few yards closer towards the couple at the front table.

Second dog doing the routine, now, up on its hind legs. More cecchetti. Must have pretty much cleaned them out by now, the two of them.

No, must be mistaken. Nasty suspicious mind of a sbirro. Never entirely off duty, even on a Sunday morning.

Now: one of the two dogs is suddenly haring over back towards the bandstand and the colonnades, as if it had been called by its owner’s whistle. Although Soranzo hadn’t heard a damn thing.

Suddenly, he realised what had been going on.

He ran over towards the colonnade, diving and weaving through the tables in a very impressive manner.

Behind one of the columns was a traditionally dressed middle aged lady, of regulation Balkan appearance. All the usual: headscarf; shawl; baggy skirts; ancient scuffed shoes. And a large shopping bag. One of the dogs was now at her feet. The other one was coming over now, at a hell of a rate.

Soranzo flashed his card. And simultaneously hit the pre-set numbers on his phone. Within twenty seconds or so, a couple of local cops manifested themselves (minchia! That was quick. How the hell did they manage that?), and applied the appropriate ceremonial bracelets to the reluctantly outstretched wrists.

We have reason to believe, etc., etc. You know the routine. Damn well ought to by now.

Dog whistle, yes, but out of our range. Clever. Not sure they’ll get more doggy treats tonight, though.

A couple of minutes or so later, Soranzo strolled, as elegantly and nonchalantly as he could possibly manage, across to the front table outside Lavena.

He put on his most dazzling, 1960s American film hero smile.

“I believe these belong to you...”