Ten

It was more than a year since Leo Falcone had fired a weapon, and that was on the firing range, on the routine duty he regarded as an administrative chore. Inspectors didn’t shoot people. If he could help it, none of these officers did either. That was not why the police existed.

He tried to remember what he knew about how to enter a building safely. It wasn’t a lot. So he clung to the walls of the entrance corridor, with its ancient, smoky ochre walls. The plaster was peeling from the damp beneath the old stone of the palace in which the corridor lay like an afterthought, tucked into the hem of a sprawling pile of dark masonry that sat, unvisited and unknown, in this strange and, for Falcone, increasingly inimical part of the city.

Right arm out perpendicular to his body to ensure Peroni and Rosa stayed behind, Falcone took a series of rapid strides, hard against the wall, seeing nothing, hearing voices ahead. A bright light indicated the studio where he had first approached Agata Graziano and asked for help, a decision he now regretted deeply.

There were no more shots, though. That gave him some satisfaction. Then he moved forward again, gun held high, ready and visible, and beckoned the two figures behind him to dash safely into the alcove on the right, where Falcone dimly recalled the presence of a middle-aged security guard.

Rosa went first, squeezing behind his beckoning hand. Falcone stared down the corridor and briefly turned to nod at Peroni to wait. Then they looked at one another, a familiar expression of shared dismay in each man’s eyes. Rosa had let out a sudden, high-pitched shriek. Falcone turned, spat something low and vicious in her direction, hoping it would shut her up, and crossed the corridor.

There was a figure in uniform on the floor, brutally wounded, sitting upright against the wall clutching his bloodied stomach with both hands, a look of intense fear in eyes that were fast fading towards unconsciousness.

Falcone listened to him say something that might have been “Help me.”

“There are people on the way,” the inspector said, and, feeling a rising tide of fury enter his head, stormed back into the corridor with a firm intent, weapon in front of him, not knowing whether the female agente and Gianni Peroni, his only support at that moment, were following on behind.

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