"I believe it does," he answered, and scanned the deserted street, where just a single bus was struggling down the centre line at a snail's pace, trying to keep from skidding into the gutter.
Costa stepped out from the shelter of the doorway, pulling the collar of his thick black coat up, shielding his eyes from the blizzard with a frozen hand, then darted into an alley, towards the distant yellow light trickling from the tiny doorway of what he guessed just might be the last bar open in Rome.
They proved to be the only three customers in the tiny cafe down the alley beyond the Galleria Doria Pamphili, among the dark tangle of ancient streets that ran west towards the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Costa stood with Gianni Peroni at one end of the counter, trying to calm down the big man before something untoward happened. Mauro Sandri was crouched on a stool a good distance away, concentrating hard on polishing the lenses on his damn cameras, not even touching the booze-rich caffè Peroni had bought him before war broke out.
The owner, a tall, skeletal man with a white nylon jacket, scrappy brown moustache and greased grey hair, looked at the three of them in turn and declared quite firmly, "Were this up to me, I'd slap the guy around a little, Officer. I mean, you got to have limitations. There's public places and there's private places. If a man can't get a little peace and quiet when he wanders into the pisser and gets his cazzo out, what's this world coming to? That's what I want to know. That, and when you people are getting the hell out of here. If you weren't police I'd be closed already. A man don't pay the mortgage selling three coffees in an hour, and I don't see anyone else showing up for this party either."
He was right. Costa had seen only a few figures scurrying through the snow when they trudged to the bar. Now it was solid white beyond the door. Anyone with sense was, surely, snug at home, swearing not to set foot outside until the blizzard ended and some sunlight turned up to disclose what Rome looked like after an extraordinary night like this.
Gianni Peroni had downed his coffee and added an extra grappa on top, which was unlike the man. He sat hunched on an ancient, rickety stool, designed to be as uncomfortable as possible so no one lingered, staring mutely at the bottles behind the bar. It wasn't Sandri's stupid trick with the camera that had caused this, Costa knew. Trying to snap a picture of Peroni taking a pissvérité was what Mauro had called itwas merely the final straw that had pushed the big man over the edge.
They'd discussed this already earlier that evening, when Costa had quietly asked the big man if everything was OK. It all came out in a rush. What was really bugging Peroni was the fact he wouldn't see his kids this Christmas, for the first time ever.
"I'll get Mauro to apologize," Costa told his partner now. "He didn't mean anything, Gianni. You had the measure of the guy straightaway. He just does this, all the time. Taking pictures."
Besides, Costa thought, any photo could have been quite something too. He could easily imagine a grainy black-and-white shot of Peroni's hulking form, shot from the back, shrinking into the corner of the bar's grubby urinal, looking like an outtake from some fifties shoot in Paris by Cartier-Bresson. Sandri had an eye for a picture. Costa half blamed himself. When Peroni had dashed for the toilet door and Sandri's eyes had lit up, he should have seen what was coming.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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