When Detective Max Hornung landed at the Costa Smeralda airport in Sardinia, he rented the cheapest car available, a Fiat 500, and drove into Olbia. Unlike the rest of Sardinia, Olbia was an industrial city, and the outskirts were an ugly sprawl of mills and factories, a city dump and a giant graveyard of once-beautiful automobiles, now useless old hulks, good only for scrap. Every city in the world had its automobile junkyards, Max thought. Monuments to civilization.
Max reached the center of town and drove up in front of a building with a sign that read: "QUESTURA
DI SASSARI COMMISSARIATO DI POLIZIA OLBIA." The moment Max entered, he felt that familiar sense of identity, of belonging. He showed his warrant card to the desk sergeant, and a few minutes later he was ushered into the office of the Chief of Police, Luigi Ferraro. Ferraro rose to his feet, a welcoming smile on his face. It died as he saw his visitor. There was something about Max that did not spell "detective."
"Could I see your identification?" Chief Ferraro asked politely.
"Certainly," Max said. He pulled out his warrant card and Chief Ferraro examined both sides of it carefully, then returned it. His immediate conclusion was that Switzerland must be very hard up for detectives. He took a seat behind his desk and said, "What can I do for you?"
Max started to explain, in fluent Italian. The problem was that it took Chief Ferraro some moments to figure out what language Max was speaking. When he realized what it was supposed to be, he held up a horrified hand and said, "Basta! Do you speak English?"
"Of course," Max replied.
"Then I beg of you! Let us speak in English."
When Max was through talking, Chief Ferraro said, "You are mistaken, signore. I can tell you that you are wasting your time. My mechanics have already examined the Jeep. Everyone is agreed that it was an accident."
Max nodded, unperturbed. "I haven't looked at it"
Chief Ferraro said, "Very well. It is in a public garage now, up for sale. I will have one of my men take you there. Would you like to see the scene of the accident?"
Max blinked and said, "What for?"
Detective Bruno Campagna was elected as Max's escort. "We've already checked it out. It was an accident," Campagna said.
"No," Max replied.
The Jeep was in a corner of the garage, its front still dented and splashed with dried green sap.
"I haven't had time to work on it yet," the mechanic explained.
Max walked around the Jeep, examining it. "How were the brakes tampered with?" he asked.
The mechanic said, "Ges??! You, too?" A note of irritation crept into his voice. "I been a mechanic for twenty-five years, signore. I examined this Jeep myself. The last time anyone touched these brakes was when this car left the factory."
"Someone tampered with them," Max said.
"How?" The mechanic was spluttering.
"I don't know yet, but I will," Max assured him confidently. He took a last look at the Jeep, then turned and walked out of the garage.
Chief of Police Luigi Ferraro looked at Detective Bruno Campagna and demanded, "What did you do with him?"
"I didn't do anything. I took him to the garage, he made an ass of himself with the mechanic, then he said he wanted to go for a stroll by himself."
Max was standing on the shore, staring out at the emerald Tyrrhenian waters, seeing nothing. He was concentrating, his mind busily puting pieces together. It was like working a giant jigsaw puzzle. Everything always went neatly into place when you knew where it fitted. The Jeep was a small but important part of the puzzle. Its brakes had been examined by expert mechanics. Max had no reason to doubt either their honesty or competence. He therefore accepted the fact that the brakes of the Jeep had not been tampered with. Because Elizabeth had been driving the Jeep and someone wanted her dead, he also accepted the fact that they had been tampered with. There was no way it could have been done. Yet someone had done it. Max was up against someone clever. It made things more interesting.
Max stepped out onto the sandy beach, sat down on a large rock, closed his eyes and began to concentrate again, focusing on the pieces, shifting, dissecting, rearranging the bits of the puzzle.
Twenty minutes later the last piece clicked into place. Max's eyes flew open and he thought admiringly, Bravo! I must meet the man who thought of this.
After that, Detective Max Hornung had two stops to make, the first just outside Olbia and the second in the mountains. He caught the late afternoon plane back to Zurich.