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  • Published: 4 June 2024
  • ISBN: 9781529154375
  • Imprint: Hutchinson Heinemann
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • RRP: $34.99

A Refiner's Fire


The first few times, the messages on Instagram gave no certainty of their numbers, nor did the participants have a specific target, but tonight they had agreed on la Fondamenta della Misericordia, only to have someone down in Castello complain that it was too far for them, so how about Santa Giustina? Only to have the ndecision changed by the person who wrote that Santa Giustina wasn’t worth the time to cause trouble, so why not try the Piazzetta dei Leoncini? It was closer, and what they did would not pass unobserved.

In less than ten minutes, both groups were running into the Piazza, one from Calle de la Canonica, the other from under the Orologio. They crashed into one another, silent but for grunts and the sound a fist makes when it hits a shoulder or a head. They quickly coalesced into a mass of moving body parts: they fell, they got to their knees, were knocked back to the ground, got up and landed a punch on someone’s neck, then had their feet kicked out from under them and fell again.

One gang was larger than usual: surveillance cameras later individuated twelve, six of whom were identified for the first time; the other six were already known. The other gang had ten members, one of whom carried a piece of metal pipe with which he had already smashed a display window; he and two friends stuffed the pockets of their jackets with eyeglass frames.

As bad luck would have it, their changes of destination, disputes about the better way to get there once they’d finally decided, and their general desire to enjoy and exult in the anticipation of violence caused them to arrive at Piazza San Marco three minutes after the change of squad at the police station not far from Caffè Florian. Thus a double squad of officers was in the station when they heard the shouts and screams from the direction of the Basilica, and it was five officers who ran into the piazza, drawn by the sound until they could follow their sight.

Two more officers, on special duty from eleven until five in the morning as part of a police decision to keep the city safe at night, happened to be entering the Piazza, and so the boys, some of them already uncomfortable at the realization that both the bruising and the punching they had given and taken had not been as much fun as playing basketball, found themselves unarmed and undefended against seven police officers.

The number of officers and the sight of the clubs and pistols hanging from their belts changed the adrenaline of combat into fear at the sight of a greater force. The weapons the police carried nullified the boys’ numerical advantage and burst the bubble of their valour. The youngest wet his pants, another put his hands over his face and bent over to pretend he wasn’t there, another took two steps and lowered himself to one of the passarelle, stacked there to be used in the event of acqua alta.

Seeing the uneasiness their mere presence caused the boys, the officers hardened their faces and raised their voices, forcing the boys towards the police station. At no time did the policemen touch them: like cowboys, they herded with changes of voice and one-word commands. Instead of cow patties, two of the boys left behind them a trail of discreetly discarded eyeglass frames.

Macaluso, the sergeant who had remained behind and who had observed the round-up from the steps leading to the station, went back inside, pulled out a number of forms from the drawer of his desk and set a dozen or so pencils on top of them.

When the first few came in, he pointed to the papers and said, ‘Take a pencil and a form, fill it out. Give it to me when you’re finished.’

The smallest of the boys said, ‘Please, Signore, may I make a phone call?’ His voice held the promise of tears, but still the officer, who had three children, stood and shouted ‘Silenzio ’ at the group. When the talking stopped, he added, ‘No, you cannot make any phone calls. Not until you fill out the form. Then you can each make one call.’ He saw one of the boys at the back of the group raise his phone in front of him and start to touch the keys.

‘Andolfatto, take his phone,’ the sergeant ordered, pointing towards the boy with the phone in his hand. The officer walked over and snatched the phone before the boy could try to lower it.

A Refiner's Fire Donna Leon

Brunetti returns with a gripping and powerful case about the murkiness of power and a test of loyalties

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