The conference room was windowless with harsh lighting. A rectangular table and six chairs filled the space. A small shelf held the telephone, paper and pens. Anna, sitting facing the door, skimmed through the file. It was much slimmer than expected and didn’t show any signs of being handled repeatedly. Is this the first time its been read by anybody, apart from Mr Allen and his researchers since it was created a hundred years ago?
She was thankful that all of it seemed to be typed or handwritten in block capitals. I will take notes as I go, reread and prepare questions.
Anna was stunned by the first page.
SEXUAL ASSAULT OF A MINOR
AGE: 7 YEARS
NAME: GEMMA BAUDO
DATE: JULY 6, 1912
INTERVIEWEE: FRANCESCA NOVAK
RELATIONSHIP WITH VICTIM: MOTHER
DATE OF INTERVIEW: JULY 26, 1912
Oh God, not Leo, please dear God, not Leo. Anna put her elbows on the table and her head in her hands. Oh Tommy, I wish you were with me now. Then her thoughts went to Gemma and Francesca and how they could have coped. What an almighty shock.
She had to force herself to turn the page and to read Francesca’s words.
FRANCESCA: THAT EVENING … YES JULY 6TH, I WAS AT HOME WITH GEMMA. MY HUSBAND, LEO, WAS GONE TO A BAR LOCALLY TO MEET FRIENDS. AT ABOUT 9 P.M., OUR CURATE, FATHER FAVALORO, A LOVELY MAN, CALLED TO TELL ME THAT MY MOTHER, WHO LIVED NEARBY, HAD TAKEN ILL SUDDENLY AND THAT I WAS REQUIRED TO GO TO HER. BECAUSE OF THE URGENCY, HE VERY KINDLY OFFERED TO STAY WITH GEMMA, WHO WAS ASLEEP IN BED. I PROMISED TO RETURN WITHIN THE HOUR OR TO SEND SOMEONE TO REPLACE HIM. I CAME BACK WELL BEFORE 10 P.M. TO FIND LEO SITTING ON THE SIDE OF THE BED WITH GEMMA IN HIS ARMS. SHE WAS CRYING BITTERLY, AND WHEN SHE SAW ME, SHE SAID, ‘HE HURT ME, MOMMA, HE HURT ME.’ I GRABBED HER FROM LEO, SHE SHOWED ME WHERE IT HURT, AND AFTER I EXAMINED HER I SHOUTED AT HIM, ‘WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?’ HE BLAMED THE PRIEST. [TEARS AND SILENCE]
INTERVIEWER: WHAT DID LEO SAY?
FRANCESCA: HE SAID HE HAD RETURNED ONLY A FEW MINUTES BEFORE ME AND THAT THE PRIEST WAS LYING ON THE BED WITH HIS ARM UNDER THE BLANKETS. IMAGINE MAKING UP A STORY LIKE THAT TO BLAME THE POOR PRIEST. THAT WAS DISGRACEFUL. I COULDN’T TAKE ANY MORE FROM HIM SO I SHOUTED AT HIM TO LEAVE OR I WOULD SEND FOR THE POLICE. HE LEFT.
INTERVIEWER: DID YOU EVER HAVE REASON PREVIOUSLY TO SUSPECT LEO?
FRANCESCA: NO. IF I DID I WOULDN’T HAVE MARRIED HIM. [PAUSE – HAND-WRINGING] HE ALWAYS SEEMED PROTECTIVE OF GEMMA.
INTERVIEWER: HAVE YOU SEEN HIM SINCE THAT DAY?
FRANCESCA: NO, AND I DON’T WANT TO. THE POLICEMAN CALLED TO TELL ME THAT LEO HAD THREATENED THE PARISH PRIEST. I COULDN’T DEAL WITH IT. I TOLD HIM TO CALL ON CHARLES, LEO’S BROTHER, AND I GAVE HIM HIS ADDRESS.
INTERVIEWER: HAS YOUR SUSPICION ABOUT LEO CHANGED SINCE JULY 6TH?
FRANCESCA: NO, HOW COULD IT?
INTERVIEWER: IS LEO NOW LIVING WITH HIS BROTHER?
FRANCESCA: YOU’D HAVE TO ASK CHARLES THAT.
Anna sat back in her chair, light-headed and so sad. Oh my God, Francesca was convinced that Leo was guilty. Three shattered lives. She reflected on this for a few minutes, trying to put herself in the place of any of the three. Despair, how could it be anything else? To try to slow down the whirlwind in her mind and focus on the next interview, she left the room and went to the water cooler on the corridor that she had spotted earlier.