The photographer's round, bulbous eyes blinked back at the two policemen suspiciously. He flexed his shoulders, maybe to shrug off the cold, maybe to get back some feeling after experiencing Peroni's grip.
"This would be a duty break, right? I can still shoot if I want to?"
Nic Costa listened to Sandri's squeaky northern tones, sighed and put a restraining hand on his partner's arm, worried that Peroni's temper just might take a turn in the wrong direction. The photographer had been doing the rounds of the Questura all month. He was a nice enough guy, an arty type who'd been given some kind of government grant to create a documentary record of the station's work. He'd photographed all manner of people: traffic cops and forensic, the lunatics from the morgue, the paper-monkeys in clerical. Costa had seen some of his work already: a set of moody monochrome prints of the warders working the cells. The photos weren't half bad. And he had noted the photographer's steady progress around the station, understanding the greedy, interested gaze the man gave him and Peroni every time they crossed his path. Mauro Sandri was a photographer. He thought in visual terms, and not much else in all probability. He must have looked at Nic Costasmall, slight, young, like an athlete who'd somehow quit the trackset him, in his mind, against the big, bulking frame of his partnermore than twenty years older and with an ugly, violently disfigured face no one ever forgotand felt his shutter finger start to itch.
Gianni Peroni surely knew that too. Nic's partner was used to sideways glances, for his looks and his history. He'd been inspector in vice for years until, almost a year before, he'd been busted down to the ranks for one simple slip-up, when he'd tasted the goods he was supposed to be investigating. All for a private, internalized reason he'd later shared with one person only, the younger partner who pounded the street alongside him. That didn't stop an intelligent man, one who could read an expression even on Peroni's battered features, seeing the two cops together and understanding there was a story there. It was inevitable that Sandri would pick them as his subject one day. Inevitable, too, that Gianni Peroni would see it as a challenge to ride the photographer a touch hard along the way.
"You can still shoot, Mauro," Costa said and caught a glimpse of a resentful twinkle in Peroni's bright, beady eye.
He took his partner's arm again and whispered, "They're just pictures, Gianni. You know the great thing about pictures?"
"No, tell me, Professor," Peroni murmured, watching Sandri struggle to work another 35 mm cassette into his Nikon.
"They only show what's on the surface. The rest you make up. You write your own story. You imagine your own beginning and your own ending. Pictures are fiction pretending to be truth."
Peroni nodded. He wasn't his normal self, Costa thought. There were dark, complex thoughts rumbling around deep inside a head that temperamentally liked to avoid such places.
"Maybe. But does this particular fiction have a caffè corretto inside it?"
Costa coughed into a gloved hand and stamped his feet, thinking about the taste of a big slug of grappa hidden inside a double espresso and how little activity there could be on a night such as this, when even the most crooked Roman hoods would surely be thinking of nothing but a warm bed.
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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