"I'll be home by this evening," he told himself.
Raising his eyes for a moment as he turned back to his book, he met those of the old lady, who had silently approached him.
"Please sit down," he said, removing his duffel from the free chair. The woman skirted the short side of the table and sat down. The skin between the few deep creases on her face seemed strangely young and taut. She had carefully outlined her lips with deep scarlet.
"I'm sure no one has recognized you," the lady said.
Leonardo shut his book. The woman nodded severely.
"I couldn't fail to. You've been one of the great delusions of my life."
"I was so naive. I spent years in the arts and should have realized better than anyone the huge gulf between the artist and the shabbiness of the man."
Leonardo took a mouthful of coffee.
"What was your own field in the arts?"
The woman checked the architecture of her hair with her left hand.
"Opera. I was a contralto."
Leonardo complimented her. The man at the other table was watching them; his heavy hands restless, the rest of his body motionless. Leonardo imagined he must be having ignoble thoughts.
"May I ask you a question?" the woman said.
"After what happened, did you continue writing?"
"No, I stopped."
The woman screwed up her eyes, as if reliving one of many memories.
"I could not sing for nearly two years when my daughter was born because of her health problems. I nearly went mad. And I don't say this out of empathy with you. The situation I found myself in was very different from yours. I had done nothing wrong." Leonardo finished his coffee.
"Then you started again?"
"Of course," the woman exclaimed. "One engagement after another. Not many contraltos can boast of singing until the age of fifty-two, but I had a voice other women could only dream of. I was on stage two days after I lost my son. Have you any idea what it means to lose a son and two days later find yourself singing Rigoletto in front of a thousand people?"
The fat man got up from his table and passed them on his way out. "Good-bye," the woman said.
"Good-bye," he answered.
Leonardo followed the man with his eyes as far as the door. Rembrandt without the beard, he thought.
"An arms dealer," the woman said. "Stays here two nights a month."
Leonardo would have liked more coffee.
"Do you come here often?" he asked.
"I've been living here for a year. If that's not often, I don't know what is."
The sound of the commercial traveler's car attracted their eyes to the window. He maneuvered his luxury off-road vehicle and went out through the gate, which was being held open by the man from reception. The two acknowledged each other, and then the bald man closed the gate and padlocked it, slung his rifl e over his shoulder, and slowly walked back.
"His car's bulletproof," the woman said. "That's why he's able to come and go as he pleases."
Leonardo nodded and removed some perhaps nonexistent speck from his shoulder.
"Where did you live before you came here?" he asked.
"In P.," the woman said. "But when this business with the outsiders started, my daughter persuaded me to move in with her.
After a few months my son-in-law was called up for the National Guard and my daughter decided it would be safer to move to Switzerland. So I told her to go and find a house, then come back for me. She knew this place and brought me here so I'd be all right in the meantime."
The old woman said no more, as if that was the end of the matter. Leonardo smiled weakly.
"Will you be staying here much longer?"
Excerpted from The Last Man Standing by Davide Longo. Copyright © 2013 by Davide Longo. Excerpted by permission of Quercus. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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