At three a.m., Venice is either asleep or hungover and Detective Isabella DeLuca, Venice PD, realizes she has never hated her job as much as right now. The vaporetto rocks as Patrol Officer Savini speeds towards the crime scene—Palazzo Dario. Officers of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) keep pace with a host of vaporettos gliding across the Grand Canal.
A gondola moored near Ca’Dario bobs up and down. Against the sinister facade of Venice’s most infamous building, the empty boat is an ominous sign.
Savini hesitates before parking the vaporetto against the building.
“Let’s go, clock’s ticking,” DeLuca commands.
“Mujeres primero,” Savini mumbles.
“Ass off the boat, Officer!” she barks and the man squeals before alighting. Ladies first, indeed.
As she follows him, a gust of wind ruffles her dark curls. She shivers in her black leather jacket and flimsy denims.
They don’t venture far. The body lies inside a dry well in the atrium.
“Looks like she hit her head,” Savini supplies uselessly as their torchlights converge on black hair matted with dried blood.
More disturbing is the abject terror on her shriveled features. Black eyes stare into oblivion and thin, chapped lips open in a silent scream. The body bears telltale signs of severe dehydration, not to mention the evidence of her futile attempts to climb out—bloody fingernails and thin, long gouge marks in the aged stone walls imprisoning her.
She was reported missing five days ago. What made her come here?
The cavalry arrives, and DeLuca shakes off her reverie.
“Photograph every inch before removing the body. Document everything.”
She retreats to the arched entrance and lights a cigarette. She’s on edge and so is her team—everyone wants to leave before the Venetians wake. Being here is nothing compared to the sin of being seen here.
Ca’Dario—the house that kills.
Has it claimed another? Added a new name to the list of its victims?
“Jefa,” an officer calls her.
The officer hands her a Ziplockpouch. “Probably a notebook. Have a look before we take it away.”
DeLuca slips on a pair of gloves before opening the pouch. A polythene-wrapped object the size of a tennis ball and a diary.
She begins reading.
The pictures don’t do justice to Ponte dellaLibertà, the solitary bridge that cuts across the Mediterranean, connecting the mainland to Venice.
When I stepped off the bus at Piazzale Roma bus station, I was dazed. The square thrived with life. I closed my eyes to calm my thumping heart. The aroma of street food assaulted my nostrils, and my mouth watered. Layering the fragrance was the salty tang of the sea—I licked my lips and could almost taste it.
I’m in Venice! These will be the best two weeks of my life!
I’m boarding at a pleasant lodging house within walking distance of the Grand Canal, Venice’s primary water highway. It’s a single bedroom, with Wi-Fi and one window with a canal view.
In the morning, a lean, mean, smoking-hot machine—Leonardo—delivered a steaming hot espresso to my doorstep, welcoming me to Venice with his Spanish lilt and a million-watt smile. Dreamy, he was!
Anyway, itinerary! The plan is to visit buildings built by Pietro Lombardo—the renowned 15th-century architect—and one of my forefathers, at least according to family legend.
My top three-
- Doge’s Palace,
- Church of Santa Maria, and
- San Giobbe
Perhaps the tomb of Dante Alighieri? Time and money permitting, Rosa.
Something weird happened today. I walked to the ferry station to catch a vaporetto to Santa Maria. The view across the Grand Canal was breathtaking. A three-storied palazzo on the other side caught my eye. It was strangely familiar.
Single-lancet windows adorned the left side on all floors and a neo-gothic balcony on the second floor overlooked the Canal. The most striking features were the circular rosette motifs. The building was a remarkable merger of Gothic and Renaissance architectural elements though it was a little lopsided.
I asked a gondolier about the building. Fillipo—a stick-thin, tall gentleman with dark wavy hair and tanned skin—said it was haunted!
How can a structure so alluring be haunted? I’m meeting Fillipo at midnight to visit the Palazzo. I feel he doesn’t want to be seen.
During the day, Venice dazzles one with the gleaming canals, the vibrant palazzos, countless bridges, and domed basilicas.
Venice at night is unnerving. The canals seem depthless in the moonlight. The shadows cast by the bridges feel like otherworldly creatures waiting in the dark, distorting the placidity of the Venetian days into something sinister.
One of those gleaming palaces is spookier than the rest, its dark windows force you to take a second glance over your shoulder. Built in 1479, a gift for Giovanni Dario’s services to the state, Ca’Dario is the most haunted building in Venice.
I’m in love! The Ca’Dario is an architectural wonder! On the surface, there’s nothing terrifying about it. The facade reveals nothing of the dark rumours that have swirled around it for centuries.
My research reveals that everyone who owned it or lived in it for over 20 days died, went bankrupt or killed somebody. The names of the house’s victims surge across my vision. Giovanni’s daughter and her family.A British scientist. An American millionaire. A world-famous tenor. The Count of Turin—murdered by his lover—who later died violently. The manager of ‘The Who’.
Even the local fisherfolk don’t cast their nets in the waters before it, citing uneasiness. Tonight, I felt that uneasiness. I understand why Fillipo didn’t want to get too close.
But I did. Why? I don’t know.
There’s an intriguing inscription on the lower part of the facade—JOANNES DARIVS VRBIS GENIO—To the genius of the city, Giovanni Dario.
When I touched it, I felt a jolt of electricity. Fillipo lost it and started screaming in Spanish. Only when I calmed him down did he reveal that the inscription is an anagram—SVB RVINA INSIDIOSA GENERO—I create under an insidious ruin.
The man who built it cursed it.
Who was it? I asked. And this is a bombshell! Are you ready?
He said it was built by none other than Pietro Lombardo! Although there’s no record.
That’s why the architecture looked familiar! My ancestor built this building!
I’m in my room now—with a secret.
A fragment fell into my hands when I touched the inscription. I’m holding it and I swear I feel a low humming pulse through my fingertips. Ca’Dario is calling me.
I remember the stories my nonnotold me when I was little—of the remarkable architects of yore, their accomplishments, of evil spirits and haunted houses. Was he referring to the Ca’Dario?
I create under an insidious ruin. It feels like Pietro wanted to curse all who dared to possess Ca’Dario.
Why? Why create this masterpiece and ensure that everyone who desired it would die?
In my dreams, resplendent palaces gleam under the sun. The red walls and rooftops contrast against the arctic blue of the Grand Canal. One building emits a dark fog—the mist obscuring the horizon. Grimy gray structures lean to the right, crumbling under their weight. The Canal’s inky water rises to swallow them.
Leonardo brought my morning macchiato to the door. But he seemed different. Off. His bronze skin was dull. The radiant smile hid a sneer, and the welcoming dark brown eyes stared unblinking into mine.
Does he know about my secret?
No, he can’t.
I’m just tired. A restlessness has invaded me ever since I touched the Ca’Dario. My little secret is ensconced in a pouch in my handbag. But there’s another that rests inside me, creating chaos and disquiet.
What’s happening to me?
How did I come back to my room? Am I losing time?
I went to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection today. A break from the itinerary. The next thing I remember is the Ca’Dario staring at me from every corner.
Every surface in the gallery was covered with images of the Palazzo. Watercolors, acrylic impressions, photographs. Every lancet window pinched at my skin, probing and pricking. The rosette motifs spun—emerald, sapphire, and ruby studded panes whizzed across my vision, merging into crimson.
I’m a thief, and it knows!
I couldn’t find Fillipo at the pier. Something bad has happened to him.
I returned to Ca’Dario last night in my dream. The gondola pitched with the waves. There were no oars! I forced myself to breathe.
Not underwater. Not yet.
No light reflected off the windows—the lancets were shuttered close, dead, like Leonardo’s eyes. The grotto on the ground floor opened like the maw of an unknown beast. It called to me and the current shifted. The gondola glided closer to the dark, unfathomable interiors.
For a split second, I saw two pinpricks glinting in the dark.
But it wasn’t the architect, it was his creation. I stared into the abyss and it stared back!
Fillipo’s back! I saw him this morning when I went down to get my macchiato.
Leo is on leave. I hope he’s okay.
I wore a bathrobe because my body ached. He was arguing with MsSalmaso. She saw me paddling down barefoot and wrinkled her nose. Fillipo turned and I screamed. A purple rash had spread across his face, and his eyes were reduced to slits.
“She ask to go to the Ca’Dario, Sofia! Closer, she says! Look what happen to me!”
His screams were louder than mine.
It was an allergic reaction. But what if it wasn’t? The way MsSalmaso looks at me…she knows about my secret. She wanted to clean the room. But I refused. What if she takes it?
I’m floating, bobbing up and down with the gondola. The Canal gurgles under me.
It was Fillipo—in my room—his face a purplish mass of rotting flesh, his once tan skin a mosaic of open sores and oozing pus.
“You did this to me,” he said and walked away.
I grabbed my secret and followed him to the pier and into his gondola. “Please, Fillipo, let me explain,” I said. But he wouldn’t listen to me.
Now, Fillipo has vanished.
The Ca’Dario looms ahead. It’s calling me. I’ll close my eyes and sleep. I’m so tired.
I don’t know how many days I’ve been here. Too many.
I’m dying. Ca’Dario has swallowed me. I’m slipping in and out of consciousness, in and out of this hole in the ground. Sometimes I’m here, sometimes, on the balcony. I scream, but no one hears me.
I know the truth now. Ca’Dario is a relic—devoid of its grandeur and the imprints of lives it’s supposed to have taken. Much like its vacant suites and corridors, the rumours that surround it are empty. There’s no one here.
Ca’Dario was never haunted.
Why did it want me? I’ll never know.
Last log… Day unknown
I’m on the balcony. Below, a gondola appears and disappears, the silhouette of its doomed driver, strangely familiar.
The indigo of the horizon turns lilac, a faint line of colour that separates the skies from the still fathomless indigo of the Canal. As the day approaches, the truth rings out with the tolling of bells.
Ca’Dario was never haunted.
But, now, it will be.
DeLuca flips the notebook shut. She unwraps the tiny object to find a small piece of plaster and cement. It hums.
Did this cause the girl’s death?
She quickly walks to the entrance and drops it in the Canal.
“Getting rid of evidence?!” Savini asks in mock horror.
“Trust me,” DeLuca says, watching the piece sink. “Some secrets aren’t worth revealing.”
- PD– Police Department
- Mujeres primero– Ladies first
- Jefa– Chief, Boss
- Si– Yes