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From a bestselling Italian author comes a sharply observed new mystery set in the seedy underworld of 1970s Milan
Giorgio Faletti's first thriller, I Kill, took Europe by storm, selling over five million copies. The Corriere della Sera, Italy's leading newspaper, crowned him "the greatest Italian writer." In 2010, with the explosive publication of A Pimp's Notes, Faletti won international celebrity as a writer of world-class, tightly wound, psychologically nuanced thrillers.
It's 1978. Italy has just been shocked by the kidnapping of the politician Aldo Moro by the left-leaning terrorist group the Red Brigades. In Milan, the upper class continues to amuse itself in luxury restaurants, underground clubs, and cabarets. This is Bravo's milieu. Enigmatic and cynical, Bravo makes his living catering to the tastes, fantasies, and fetishes of the wealthy and depraved. When the mysterious Carla enters his life, what begins as a clandestine romance quickly becomes a nightmare that will transform Bravo into a man wanted by the police, by organized crime, and even by the Red Brigades. As the web around him tightens, Bravo will be forced to confront the violence of the times in which he lives as well as his own connections to the political and criminal networks that control contemporary Italy.
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Giorgio Faletti spent years as a successful comedian and singer/songwriter before beginning a career as a writer. His first novel, I Kill (2002), was an international sensation. His fifth novel, I Am God, was recently published in England, to wide acclaim.
Antony Shugaar is a writer and translator. Aside from Giorgio Faletti's A Pimp's Notes, his recent translations include books by Simonetta Agnello Hornby, Silvia Avallone, Nanni Balestrini (with an NEA translation fellowship), Fabio Bartolomei, Massimo Carlotto, Giancarlo De Cataldo, Diego De Silva, Marco Mancassola, Gianni Rodari, and Paolo Sorrentino. He is the author of Coast to Coast and I Lie for a Living and the coauthor, with the late Gianni Guadalupi, of Discovering America and Latitude Zero. He has published with the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and online with the New York Times, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about translation for the University of Virginia Press.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
When Daytona and I walk out onto the street, it’s daybreak.
We stop on the sidewalk, a few feet apart, inhaling the cool morning air. Even in a big city, morning air gives the impression of purity. Actually, the breath that Milan exudes has halitosis, and both of us must have pretty bad morning breath ourselves. The only thing that’s pure is the impression, but even that’s something you can live on.
Daytona stretches his arms, yawns, twists both shoulders.
I thought I heard his spine crack, but maybe my ears are deceiving me. His face shows the signs of a night spent playing poker and snorting coke. He’s pretty messed up. You can see the muscles tensing around his jaw. The double comb-over that covers up his bald spot like a clever bit of sleight of hand and hairspray has started to sag, slipping off to one side, like a hairy beret. His complexion is sallow, and he has dark circles around his eyes. His pencil mustache makes him look like one of those nasty, neurotic cartoon characters who wind up being funny in spite of themselves.
He lifts his hand in front of his face; pulls back his shirt cuff, begrimed by the night-long card game; and looks at the time.
“Jesus, it’s almost six a.m.”
Daytona says this as if it were a problem. As if it were a rarity for him still to be up and about at this hour of the morning. As if there were someone who cared what he did with his life, aside from himself and occasionally the police. He drops his arm and the watch vanishes beneath the cuff. That wristwatch is the source of his nickname. For years, he’s worn a gold Paul Newman Daytona Rolex.
When he has the watch to wear.
It’s a sartorial detail that makes it easy to tell Daytona’s good times from his lean times. Just take a look at his left wrist. If there’s no watch, it means he’s pawned it. And if he’s pawned it then it means that Daytona is hustling his heart out to get the watch out of hock. Without worrying much about what he has to do to lay hands on the money.
Well, this morning the watch is on his wrist and he’s just spent the night balls-out, luck running high, winning hand after hand at poker. After last call, we stayed on in the private room of the Ascot Club, the room next to the bar. Him, Sergio Fanti, Godie, Matteo Sana aka Sanantonio, and me. Bonverde, the owner, went home with his wife, hard on the heels of the last spectator. On his way out, he told Giuliano, the manager, to close the place down and lock up. Without too much interest in what might happen after he walked out. We stayed on in the private room, breathing in the lingering aroma of decadent humanity, in the hay-scented dankness of wall-to-wall carpeting that hasn’t been aired out for years. Someone put out the cards, packs of cigarettes, and a few yards of cocaine.
The hours sped past, the cigarettes and cards went around, and when the last snort of cocaine was just a distant memory, Daytona had become the unquestioned star of the evening’s entertainment. The jackpot was four nines slapped down on the table like a thunderbolt, dealing out death to a full house. Sweeping the pile of cash.
As if he’d just read my mind, Daytona turns to look at me.
“I was fucking lucky tonight. I needed that.”
I smile, even though I try not to. I turn to look at the intermittent flow of morning traffic. Scattered cars move lazily along Via Monte Rosa. Inside the cars are frightened ghosts returning home and other ghosts, convinced that they’re frightening, heading out for their daily damnation. As an impartial observer, I had the impression that Daytona had given the blindfolded goddess a name and address, with a few sleights of hand that were not entirely sportsmanlike. As far as I could tell, anyway. Not that it’s any of my business. I don’t gamble or play cards, so I don’t win and I don’t lose. I’ve always been the spectator who watches and minds his own business. Over time, this has evolved from a rule guiding my life to a pleasant routine. It’s a better way to live and, in certain circles, it’s a better way to stay alive.
I look back at him.
“Fucking lucky is right. How much did you win?”
Daytona scrutinizes my face in search of sarcasm. He’s satisfied there is none, or maybe he chooses not to see it. He slips one hand into his pocket without pulling out his wad of cash, as if he can count the money by touch. I can almost see his fat hairy fingers rumpling the bills roughly, the way people do with money that’s come easy.
“A million eight, more or less.”
“You said it. Yum, yum, yum, a rich pile of chips!”
He rubs his hands together with satisfaction, and it occurs to me that there are certain human beings who seem to be incapable of learning from past mistakes. I struggle to keep a smile from spreading across my face again. One time, during a poker game with guys he completely outclassed, Daytona couldn’t keep from repeating that gloating phrase, and he got punched in the eye by someone taller, stronger, and better armed than him. Of course, he had to take it without reacting. He went around for weeks with a black eye that made him look like a chubby, slightly melancholy Dalmatian. With a string of snickering mockery trailing behind him, like the long train of a wedding dress.
Behind us, the others emerge from the club.
They climb up the stairs under a sign that by night winks an invitation to step downstairs to the Ascot Club, the unrivaled temple of Milanese cabaret. The walls up and down the ramshackle staircase are lined with posters for the great talents that have passed through those walls, trodden that stage, looked up at those lights at the dawn of their careers. Every day, out on the street, by the front door, an illuminated billboard announces the names of the aspiring stars who will be appearing that night.
A marginal past, a glorious future, and a hopeful present. All gathered together under the old axiom that in Milan, late at night, after a certain hour, nobody’s out and about but cops, artists, criminals, and whores.
The hard part has always been telling them apart.
Giuliano is the last to emerge. He lingers behind, locking a roll-down shutter that seals up the Ascot Club once and for all, protecting it from the contamination of daylight.
The others join us.
Godie sidles over to Daytona and places his index and middle fingers, open like scissors, on the side of his neck.
“Tac! Got you. You fumb duck.”
Godie has a quaint and distinctive manner of speech and behavior. He’s a perfect distillation of the place, the time, and the people he frequents. It’s a circle of people who express themselves with a language that attempts to be clearly recognizable, if not necessarily original. You need only invert the first consonants of certain words, so that the black dog becomes the dack blog, good shit becomes shood git, and hard cash becomes card hash. And Diego, his real name, turns into his nickname, Godie.
Il Godie, to be exact. The one-and-only Godie.
Simple, and possibly a little stupid. But people choose the medals that they pin on their own chest.
Daytona pulls Godie’s hand away from his neck.
“You calling me a fumb duck? It’s just that none of you know how to play cards. You, least of all.”
Godie shoves his elbow.
“Aw, go fuck yourself. Remember, there was no one but me and the Cincinnati Kid in New Orleans.”
The sense of humor is always the same, a bit repetitive, sometimes inspired by the cabaret artists who perform nightly at the Ascot, in other cases an inspiration from which they draw.
Giuliano catches up with us. Like me, he stayed out of the poker game. He just dabbled in the ancillary debauchery. I think he raked off some of the winnings in exchange for providing the club as a venue. As always, of course, that’s none of my business.
“So, now what do we do?”
Sergio Fanti, average height, skinny, bald, with a prominent nose, looks at his watch. We all know by heart the words he’s about to utter.
“I have exactly enough time to head home, take a quick shower, and head straight for the office.”
Sergio is the only one of us who has a real job. He works in the fashion business and his rumpled but elegant suit confirms the fact. No one understands how he can reconcile his noches de fuego and rock ’n’ roll with a serious business activity, but he seems to pull it off. The only evidence of his misdeeds are a pair of dark bags under his eyes the size of a B cup: he wears them like a trademark.
Matteo Sana yawns. Then he runs one hand over his unkempt beard, veined with tufts of white, like the hair on his head.
“I’m going to swing by Gattullo for a cappuccino.”
Again, Godie scissors his two fingers into Matteo’s neck. With an accent and voice so intensely Milanese that it verges on parody, he seconds the idea.
“Tac! I’m with you. I see you and raise you. A cappuccino and a pastry.”
Giuliano looks at me and Daytona.
“You two coming with?”
Daytona taps the back of his left hand with his right index finger.
I shake my head.
“Ditto. I’m heading for my hut.”
We watch the four of them walk off and head over to Sergio Fanti’s BMW 528—in the end, Fanti has given in. Godie flaps his arms and talks excitedly, the way he always does when he’s a little high. They get in the car and, covered by the noise of the slamming car doors, the engine roars to life, puffing clouds of blue-gray exhaust out of the tailpipe. The car eases out of the parking spot and lurches off toward Piazza Buonarroti, in the direction of the Pasticceria Gattullo, the pastry shop and café at Port...
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