The Last Man Standing
Leonardo pushed back the curtain and took a long look at the courtyard where three cars were parked, one of which was his own. The open space was surrounded by a metal net three meters high with barbed wire at the top. The previous evening, though blinded by the light the guard had shone in his face, he had noticed the outline of the little tower, but he now realized it had been skillfully constructed from old advertising panels, sheets of metal, sections of railing, a shower cubicle, and a fire escape. One of the two searchlights above it was pointed at the courtyard and the other directed at the desolate emptiness beyond the fence.
He looked out at the flat fields covered with low bushes where the road stretched into the distance, with occasional bends despite the fact that nothing seemed to be in the way to make them necessary. The sky was a monotonous unmarked gray for as far as he could see it, reminiscent in every way of the last few days. A man appeared in the courtyard.
Leonardo watched him slowly make his way to the cars and walk around them, peering through their windows: he had a leather jacket and trousers with big side pockets. He could have been about thirty; he had the compact physique of a rugby player. Why not tonight? he thought, watching the man stop in front of the trunk of his Polar.
The man took a screwdriver or knife from his pocket and with a simple movement flipped open the trunk.
For a few seconds he studied the jerry cans inside as if trying to work out what might be in them, then unscrewed the cap of one and sniffed. When he was quite sure of its contents he replaced the cap, grabbed a can, closed the trunk, and went away just as he had come.
Leonardo let the curtain fall back and went to the bedside table where he had put his water bottle. Taking a sip, he sat down on the bed. He could hear steps from the corridor, and the noise of something with wheels being pushed toward the stairs.
That evening he had hesitated for a long time before deciding whether to leave the cans in the car or take them to his room, but after thinking the matter over for a long time he had come to the conclusion that all in all he had done the right thing, or at any rate the least wrong thing, and that if the cans had been in his room it would have been worse.
He went into the bathroom, took his toiletry bag from the shelf and put it into the duffel he was packing on the bed. He stowed the vest and pants he had been wearing before he showered in a side pocket, then slipped on his jacket and left the room, leaving the key in the door as he had been told to do.
Passing down the corridor he glanced at the pictures on the walls: dead pheasants on big wooden tables, baskets of fruit, and pewter pots. There was the still the pervasive odor of boiled vegetables he had noticed the previous evening, and after the rain that had fallen in the night the fitted carpet smelled of damp undergrowth. An elderly woman was clutching the handrail on the stairs. When he asked her if she needed help, the woman, wrapped in a most unseasonable tailor-made wool costume, looked at him with total indifference as though he had been nothing more than the sound of a closing door, then turned her face to the wallpaper. Leonardo apologized, pushed past her, and went on down to the hall. The surroundings, despite their gesso statue, artificial plant, and carpet covered with cigarette burns, had clearly had quite a different appearance only a short time before. He could see marks where shelves and brackets had been roughly stripped from the walls, and big lead pipes ran the length of the ceiling. The door to the courtyard was protected by a heavy grill, through which the cars and the entrance gate were visible. Occasional circles were spreading in the puddles, and he could sense that the air was already heavy and sultry.
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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