Excerpt from Chapter 2: One Last Supper 

Back to books

But can you imagine eating a fresco right from a wall, what that would do to your cheeks and to your chin, to your nose and your teeth, if you gnawed at the cave until the soft rock filled your mouth like a granitey dollop of mashed potatoes? Inside the cave where the two dead teenagers were found, the peach of the frescoes – angel heads, bishop arms, and the dwarfish hands of cherubim – mixed with blood from the two teenagers' faces and mouths. Then the tufa walls of the cave sucked back the paint like a sponge. The colors left on the walls were astonishing. Especially the reds: bloody and passionate.

    After all, when the carabinieri found the couple they'd been dead for less than two days, and there were still signs that they'd been in an embrace. They'd had sex and they'd died. Gobs of semen showed up in vaginal smears. It was likely the girl had lived long enough to conceive.

    Rigor mortis had come and gone. The teenagers' faces and shoulders had begun to discolor, taking on a shade of pale green and marbling along the blood vessels. Decomposition fluid trickled from their mouths and noses onto the earth, and their swollen tongues protruded between their teeth and lips, still coated in tufa. Below their waists, juices from lovemaking had dried around the shriveled base of his penis, and matted the hair and tangled the curls. Alive, both the boy and the girl had been young, handsome, healthy – nineteen years old and objectively desirable. In death, they were gruesome. But what people wondered about was the sex.

    Dr Stoppani had rushed to Mancanzano when the bodies were discovered, and he'd gained admittance to the cave by showing a host of IDs, some of them even real. From his descriptions and others, we learned that the girl had been on top when the two made love: a mapwork of contusions and abrasions lined her knees and the boy's back, and a sprinkling of pebbly tufa clung to what had once been hot skin. The boy had held on to her sides tightly during the sex. There were hickeys and scratches, and finger-shaped bruises contouring her ribs. Each other's skin was under their fingernails, mixed with the tufa that had been scraped from the walls and the cave floors.

    Where their flesh was reddish purple – or where it was pale – livor mortis (the discoloration of skin caused by gravity's settling of red blood cells in the body) showed that the two had died next to each other, with her arm draped over his chest. From all of the evidence, the couple had enjoyed themselves immensely before they went crazy. And before they went dead. That's what people said softly. They said, 'It must have been good, lethal sex.' They fucked each other to death. There were people who said, 'That's the way to die.'

    The carabinieri made their rounds in the cave, gathering physical evidence, taking photos and making notes. They had to wait until a doctor could be summoned from town to confirm that the two teenagers were dead, even though their bodies had already begun to stink.

    Then once the doctor had left (though not before recommending his brother to them as an excellent mortician at a first-rate funeral parlor that paid a finder's fee to police), one of the carabinieri glanced over the two naked bodies, and the absence of clothes, and said, 'I don't know what to do.  You never undress a body before sending it to the morgue. We learned that at the academy.' Thus, what to do with the bodies became a genuine question of strategy before the officers decided they wouldn't be risking their own necks by taking immediate action. Only then did they wrap the teenagers in plastic, heave them up the bluff on body boards, and send them to the medico legale, two and a half hours away in Basilicata's capital city of Potenza.

Back to books