"I've bought all the presents, Nic," Peroni moaned, those piggy eyes twinkling back at him, the scarred face full of guilt and pain. "How the hell do I get them to Siena now with this shitty weather everywhere? What are they going to think of me, on top of everything else?"
"Phone them. They know what it's like here. They'll understand."
"They will?" Peroni snapped. "What the fuck do you know about kids, huh?"
Costa took his hand off Peroni's huge, hunched shoulder, shrugged and said nothing. Peroni had two children: a girl of thirteen, a boy of eleven. He never seemed to be able to think of them as anything but helpless infants. It was one of the traits Costa admired in his partner. To the world he looked like a bruised, scarred thug, the last man anyone would want to meet on a dark night. And it was all an act. Underneath, Peroni was just a straightforward, honest, old-fashioned family man, one who'd stepped out of line once and paid the heaviest price.
"Oh, crap." Peroni sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I don't want to lash out at you. I don't even want to lash out at Mauro over there."
"That's good to know," Costa replied, then added, "if there's anything I can do . . ."
"Such as what?" Peroni asked.
"It's an expression, Gianni. It's a way a friend has of saying, No, I haven't the first idea how I can help, and the truth is I probably can't do a thing. But if I could, I would.' Understand?"
A low, croaking snort of semi-amusement escaped Peroni's throat. "OK, OK. I am contrite. I repent my sins." His scarred face screwed up with distaste aimed, it seemed to Costa, somewhere deep inside himself. "Some more than others."
Then he shot a vicious look at Sandri, huddled over the Nikons. "I want that film, though. I'm not having my pecker pasted all over the notice board for everyone to see. They told the guy he could follow us around and take pictures. They didn't say he could walk straight after us into the pisser."
"Mauro swears there's really nothing there. People wouldn't even see it was you. And maybe it's a good picture, Gianni. Think of it."
The battered face wrinkled sceptically. "It's a picture of a man taking a piss. Not the Mona Lisa."
Costa had tried to talk art to Peroni before. It hadn't worked. Peroni was irretrievably romantic at heart, still stuck on the idea of beauty. Truth came somewhere far behind. And it occurred to Costa too that maybe there was more to the big man's misery than the genuine distress he felt at being separated from his kids. There was also the matter of the relationship Peroni had struck up with Teresa Lupo, the pathologist working at the police morgue. It was meant to be a secret, but secrets never really stayed hidden for long inside the Questura. Peroni was dating the likeable, wayward Teresa and it was common knowledge. When Costa found out, a couple of weeks before, he had thought long and hard about it and had come to the conclusion that the two might, just, make a good couple. If Peroni could swallow his guilt. If Teresa could keep her life straight for long enough to make things work once the initial flush of mad enthusiasm that came with any affair subsided into the routine of everyday existence.
Excerpted from The Sacred Cut by David Hewson Copyright © 2005 by David Hewson. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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