Excerpt of The Garden of Evil by David Hewson
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The visitors always laughed at his subtle, fluttering fingertips. It was such a
small, secret signal, yet as soon as one saw it there could be no doubting its
meaning: the bus or the carriage had just been joined by a known pickpocket.
He was careful to keep records, maintained in a private code on a piece of paper
hidden at the bottom of his closet. On a normal working day, Aldo Caviglia would
not return home until he had stolen a minimum of Û400. His averageCaviglia was
a man fond of precise accountshad been Û583 over the past four weeks. On
occasiontourists sometimes carried extraordinary amounts of cashhe had far
exceeded his daily target, so much so that it had begun to trouble him. Caviglia
chose his victims carefully. He never preyed on the poor or the elderly. When
one miserable Russian's wallet alone yielded more than Û2,000, Caviglia had
decided upon a policy. All proceeds above his maximum of Û650 would be donated
anonymouslypushed in cash into a church collection boxto the sisters near the
Pantheon who ran a charity for the city's homeless. He prided himself on the
fact that he was not a greedy man. Furthermore, as a true Roman he never ceased
to be shocked by how the city's population of destitute barboni, many young,
many unable to speak much Italian, had grown in recent years. He would take no
more than he needed. He would maintain a balance between his activities and his
conscience, going out to steal one or two days each week, when necessary. For
the rest of the time he would simply ride the trams and buses for the pleasure
of being what, on the surface, he appeared: a genial Good Samaritan, always
ready to help the stranded, confused foreigner.
The bus lurched away from the bus stop. the traffic was terrible, struggling
through the holiday crowds at a walking pace. They had moved scarcely thirty
metres along Vittorio Emanuele in the past five minutes. He stared at himself in
the bus driver's mirror again. Was this the face of a guilty man? Caviglia
brushed away the thought. In truth, if he wanted to, he could probably get a job
in a bakery, now that he was sober. No one ever complained about his work. His
late wife had thought him among the best bakers in Rome. There was a joke he now
made to himself: These fingers can make dough, these fingers can take dough. It
was a good one, he thought. He wished he could share it with someone.
If I wanted to, Caviglia emphasised to himself.
You feel guilty, said a quiet, inner voice, for yourself and the life you are
wasting. Not for what you've done.
He glanced out of the grimy windows: solid lines of cars and buses and vans
stood stationary in both directions. The sudden joy of the coming holiday
To his surprise, Aldo Caviglia felt a firm finger prod hard into his chest.
"I want the stop for the Vicolo del Divino Amore," said a woman hard up against
his right side. She spoke in an accent Caviglia took to be French, with a
confidence in her Italian which was, he felt, somewhat ill-judged.
He turned to look at her, aware that his customary smile was no longer present.
She was attractive, though extremely slender, and wore a precisely cut short
white gabardine coat over a tube-like crayon-red leather skirt that stopped just
above the knee. Perhaps thirty-five, she had short, very fiery red hair to match
the skirt, acute grey eyes, and the kind of face one saw in advertisements for
cosmetics: geometrically exact, entirely lacking in flaws, and, to Caviglia's
taste, somewhat two-dimensional. She seemed both nervous and a little depressed.
And also ill, perhaps, since on second consideration her skin was very pale
indeed, almost the colour of her jacket, and her cheeks hollow.
She had a large fawn pigskin bag over her shoulder. It sported the very visible
badge of one of the larger Milan fashion houses. Caviglia wondered why a
beautiful woman, albeit one of daunting and somewhat miserable appearance, would
want to advertise the wares of the Milanese clothes crooks and, by implication,
her own sense of insecurity. The bag was genuine, though. Perhaps one thousand
euros had been squandered on that modest piece of leather. The zip was halfway
open, just enough to reveal a large collection of itemsa scarf, a phone, some
pens, and a very large, overstuffed wallet.
Excerpted from The Garden of Evil by
David Hewson Copyright © 2008 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.