"Have the dogs been bothering you?" the man behind the counter asked without looking up from the papers spread in front of him. He was no longer wearing the green sweater he had had on the previous evening when he had demanded payment in advance and shown Leonardo how to use the hot-water token for the shared bathroom.
"There are packs of dogs all around the enclosure at night. We've tried poisoning them, but it doesn't help."
Leonardo watched him sign a paper in a sloping hand. His shiny head looked as if he were in the habit of greasing it with fat and polishing it with a wool cloth every morning. A lot of postcards showing places that were now inaccessible had been clipped with clothes pegs to the metal frame of a bed propped against the wall behind him. On the counter you could still see where objects, now vanished, must once have stood. One space looked as if it might have held a computer at one time. A telephone had survived, even if no longer attached to any cable.
"I think something's missing from my car," Leonardo said. The man turned to detach a couple of fuel tokens from the metal net and copied their code numbers into a register. When he had done this he took a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and lit one. He took a puff and looked at Leonardo through the smoke.
"Are you sure?"
The man dropped ash into a saucer with a picture of a saint on it. He had a leather armband around his wrist, and his right ear looked as if it had been chewed. Leonardo imagined these two facts must be connected in some obscure way that would have required time to figure out.
"The guard was in the watchtower all night," the man said. "No one could have gotten into the enclosure."
"Yes, I'm sure that's true."
The man studied Leonardo's thin face and long, mostly gray, hair. He was probably reflecting that the man before him did not work with his hands and was physically inactive.
"Then you must suspect the other guests," he said. Leonardo shook his head.
"No, not at all."
The man took in Leonardo's frank gaze and then puffed out his cheeks as if this would help him to think. His eyes were the color of glass bottles that had spent years in a dark cellar.
"Denis!" he shouted loudly, then picked up his cigarette from the edge of the saucer and bent his bald head over his papers again. A moment or two later a door opened behind him and the lad Leonardo had seen in the courtyard emerged.
"My brother," the man behind the counter said without looking at either of them. "He looks after security."
Seen close up, the lad looked younger than thirty. He had thick wool socks and the side pockets of his pants were full of short cylindrical objects.
"This gentleman says something's missing from his car," the bald man said.
The boy considered the tall body and narrow shoulders of Leonardo in his linen jacket, as if bewildered by a utensil that must have once been useful but had now become obsolete.
"I was on guard all night," he said, "and we haven't opened the gate yet this morning."
There was no shadow of defiance on his face. Only the boredom of someone compelled to go once again through an overfamiliar rigmarole.
"I don't doubt that," Leonardo said, "but I also know that someone's forced open the trunk of my car."
"What have you lost?" asked the boy.
"A can of oil."
"No, olive oil."
"Was it the only one you had?"
"No, I had four."
The boy was silent, as if all possibilities had been covered. His brother stopped writing.
"If you like, we can call the police."
Leonardo thought about it.
"How long would they take to get here?"
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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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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