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On the eve of the Medici Pope's visit, an assassin has struck down an assistant to Raphael. It is a crime that draws an artist named Pasquale and the brilliant, alcoholic investigative reporter Niccolo Machiaveglia into the deepest shadows of their gray, steam-driven city--where there are fouler deaths to follow. Targeted ads. HC: AvoNova.
Morning, just after dawn. The sky, for once clear of the murk spewed by foundries and manufactories, the rich blue of the very best four-florins-to-the ounce ultramarine. Men ambling to work along the Street of Dyers, leather-aproned, long gloves slung around their necks, hair brushed back and tucked under leather caps. Clogs clattering on flagstones, cheerful shouts, the rattle of shutters raised as the little workshops opened up and down the street. Apprentices hanging skeins of colored wool on hooks over workshop doors: reds, blues, yellows, vibrant in the crisp slanting light against flaking sienna walls. Then a hollow rapid panting as someone started up the Hero's engine which by an intricate system of pulleys and belts turned the paddles of the dyers' vats and drove the Archimedes' screw that raised water from the river. A puff, a breath, a little cloud of vapor rising above the buckled terracotta roofs, the panting settling to a slow steady throb.
Pasquale, who had drunk too much the night be fore, groaned awake as the engine's steady pounding shuddered through the floor, the truckle bed, his own spine. Last year, when things had been going badly- the scandal over the commission for the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, and business, never more than a trickle, suddenly drying up-Pasquale's master, the painter Giovanni Battista Rosso, had rented rooms on the second floor of a tall narrow house at the eastern end of the Street of Dyers. Although one room was only a closet, and the second, where Pasquale slept, was not much more than a passage with a bed in it, the main room was airy and light, and had a pleasant aspect over the gardens ofthe Franciscan friars of Santa Croce. On winter mornings, Pasquale had lain late in bed and watched the swarming shadows made on the ceiling of the narrow room by the lanterns of the dyers' workmen as they passed by in the cold dark street below, and in spring he had turned his bed to face the opposite window so that he could watch the trembling dance of light and shadow cast through the leaves of the trees in the garden. But all that summer he had been woken at first light by the Hero's engine, and now its vibration mingled with the queasy throb of his hangover as he groped for and failed to find his cigarettes.
Too much wine last night, wine and beer, a great swilling indeed, and then he'd taken a turn at watch over the body of Bernardo, he and three others all armed with pistols in case corpsemasters discovered its hiding-place, all of them drinking thick black wine sweet as honey, waving the weapons about and as likely to shoot each other in drunken jest as any corpsemaster. Poor Bernardo white and still, his face seeming rapt in the light of the forest of candles burning at the head of his coffin, the two silver florins that shut his eyes glinting, more money than he'd ever had in his short life. Twelve years old, the youngest pupil of Jacopo Pontormo, Bernardo had been knocked down by a vaporetto that morning, his chest crushed by its iron-rimmed wheel, and his life with it. Altogether a bad omen, for he was killed on the seventeenth of October, the eve of the feast of Saint Luke, the patron saint of the confraternity of the artists of the city.
Other noises rising, floating through the open window. Automatic cannon signaling the opening of the city gates, their sounds arriving one after the other according to the law of propagation of waves through air, first near and loud, then farther and fainter. The clatter of a velocipede's wooden wheels over cobbles, its rider cheerfully whistling. Women, calling across the narrow street to each other, the small change at the start of the day. Then the bells of the churches, far and near, ringing out for the first mass. The slow heavy tolling of Santa Croce itself mixed with the beat of the dyers' Hero's engine and seemed to rise and fall as the two rhythms pulsed in and out of phase.
Pasquale made a last futile swipe for his cigarettes, groaned and sat up, and discovered himself fully clothed. He had a distinct impression that a surgeon had bled him dry in the night. Rosso's Barbary ape sat on the wide windowsill at the foot of the bed, looking down at him with liquid brown eyes as it idly picked at calcined plaster with its long flexible toes. When it saw that Pasquale was awake it snatched the blanket from his bed and fled through the window, screeching at the fine joke it had played.
A moment later a human cry floated up. Pasquale thrust his head out of the window to see what was going on. The window overlooked the green gardens of Santa Croce, and the young friar who had charge of the gardens was running up and down the wide white gravel path below, shaking an empty sack like a flag. "You keep that creature of yours inside!" the friar shouted.
Pasquale looked either side of the window: the ape had disappeared. He called down, "He is inside. You should be inside too, brother. You should be at your devotions, not waking up innocent people."
The friar said, "I tell you, he was after my grapes!" He was red in the face, a fat young man with greasy black hair that stuck out all around his tonsure. He added, "As for innocence, no man is innocent, except in the eyes of God. Especially you: your profane and drunken songs woke me last night."
"Well, pray for me then," Pasquale said, and with drew his head. He couldn't even remember getting home, let alone singing.
The friar was still shouting, his voice breaking in anger the way that fat men's voices often do. I'll see to your grapes, Pasquale resolved, as he lit a cigarette with trembling fingers. The first puff was the test: the trick was not to inhale too deeply. Pasquale sipped cool green smoke cautiously, then more deeply when it seemed that he would not lose the contents of his stomach. He sat on his rumpled bed and as he finished the cigarette thought about angels, and Bernardo's sweet dead face. Bernardo's family would try and smuggle their son's body out of the city today, taking it back to Pratolino, beyond the jurisdiction of the corpsemasters.
Pasquale poured water into a basin and splashed his face. Combing his wet springy hair back from his forehead with his fingers, he went into the main room of the studio and found his master already at work.