Home > Playing for Pizza(11)

Playing for Pizza(11)
Author: John Grisham

"Yes. We do not want Parma to change."

Rick worked a mouthful and tried to isolate the veal, but it was impossible. The meats, cheese, and spinach blended together into one delicious taste. He was certainly no longer hungry, nor was he full. They had been there for an hour and a half, a very long dinner by his old standards, but just warming up in Parma. On cue from the other three, he began to eat slowly, very slowly. The Italians around him talked more than they ate, and a mild roar engulfed the trattoria. Dining was certainly about great food, but it was also a social event. Nino dropped by every few minutes with a quick "Is good?" for Rick. Great, wonderful, delicious, unbelievable. For the second course, Carlo took a break from the pasta. The plates were covered--small portions still--with cotolette alia parmigiana, another famous dish from Parma and one of the chef's all-time favorites. "Veal cutlets, Parma style," Sam translated. "The veal cutlets are beaten with a small bat, then dipped in eggs, fried in a skillet, then baked in the oven with a mix of parmigiano cheese and stock until the cheese melts. Carlo's wife's uncle raised the veal himself and delivered it this afternoon." As Carlo narrated and Sam interpreted, Nino was busy with the next wine, a dry red from the Parma region. Fresh glasses, even larger, were presented, and Nino swirled and sniffed and gulped. Another orgasmic roll of the eyes and it was declared sensational. A very close friend made the wine, perhaps Nino's favorite of all. Sam whispered, "Parma is famous for its food, but not its wine." Rick sipped the wine and smiled at the veal and vowed that he would, for the rest of the meal anyway, eat slower than the Italians. Sam watched him closely, certain that the culture shock was vanishing in a flood of food and wine.

"You eat like this often?" Rick asked him.

"Not every day, but this is not unusual," Sam replied casually. "This is typical food for Parma." Paolo and Giorgio were slicing their veal, and Rick slowly attacked his. The cutlets lasted half an hour, and when the plates were clean, they were removed with a flourish. A long pause followed as Nino and the waiters worked the other tables. Dessert was not an option, because Carlo had baked his special, torta nera, or black pie, and because Nino had secured a very special wine for the occasion, a dry sparkling white from the province. He was saying that the black pie, created in Parma, was chocolate with almonds and coffee, and since it was so fresh from the oven, Carlo had added just a touch of vanilla ice cream on the side. Nino had a minute to spare, so he pulled up a chair and joined his teammates and coach for the final course, unless they were in the mood for some cheese and a digestif. They were not. The restaurant was still half-full when Sam and Rick began offering their thanks and trying to say good-bye. Embraces, pats on backs, powerful handshakes, promises to come again, more welcomes to Parma, many thanks for the unforgettable dinner--the ritual took forever. Paolo and Giorgio decided to stay behind and have a bite of cheese and finish off the wine. "I'm not driving," Sam said. "We can walk. Your apartment is not far, and I'll catch a cab from there."

"I gained ten pounds," Rick said, pushing his stomach forward and following a step behind his coach. "Welcome to Parma."

Chapter 7

The buzzer had the high-pitched whine of a cheap scooter with a missing exhaust pipe. It arrived in long bursts, and since Rick had never heard it before, he at first had no idea what it meant, or where it was coming from. Things were foggy anyway. After the marathon at Montana's, he and Sam, for reasons that were not clear then or now, had stopped at a pub for a couple of beers. Rick vaguely remembered entering his apartment around midnight, but from then on, nothing. He was on his sofa, which was too short for a man his size to comfortably sleep on, and as he listened to the mysterious buzzer, he tried to remember why he had chosen the den instead of the bedroom. He could not recall a good reason. "All right!" he yelled at the door when the knocking began. "I'm coming." He was barefoot, but wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He studied his brown toes for a long time and contemplated his spinning head. Another screech from the buzzer. "All right!" he yelled again. Unsteady, he walked to the door and yanked it open. He was met with a pleasant "Buongiorno" from a short, stocky man with an enormous gray mustache and rumpled brown trench coat. Beside him was a smartly uniformed young policeman who nodded his greetings but said nothing.

"Good morning," Rick said with as much respect as he could muster.

"Signor Dockery?"


"I am police." From somewhere deep in the trench coat he produced documentation, waved it under Rick's nose, then returned it to its hiding place with a move so casual the message was "Don't ask any questions." It could've been a parking ticket or a receipt from the cleaners. "Signor Romo, Parma police," he said through the mustache, though it barely moved. Rick looked at Romo, then at the cop in the uniform, then back at Romo. "Okay," he managed to say. "We have complaints. You must come with us." Rick grimaced and tried to say something, but a thick wave of nausea rumbled down low, and he thought about bolting. It passed. His palms were sweaty, his knees rubbery. "Complaints?" he said in disbelief. "Yes." Romo nodded gravely, as if he had already made up his mind and Rick was guilty of something far worse than whatever the complaint was. "Come with us."

"Uh, to where?"

"Come with us. Now." Complaints? The pub had been virtually empty last night, and he and Sam, to die best of his memory, had spoken to no one but the bartender. Over beers, they had talked football and nothing else. Pleasant conversation, no cursing or fighting with the other drinkers. The walk through the old town to his apartment had been thoroughly uneventful. Perhaps the avalanche of pasta and wine had made him snore too loudly, but that couldn't be a crime, could it?

"Who complained?" Rick asked.

"The judge will explain. We must go. Please, your shoes."

"Are you arresting me?"

"No, maybe later. Let's go. The judge is waiting." For effect, Romo turned and rattled some serious Italian at the young cop, who managed to deepen his frown and shake his head as if things could not possibly be worse. They obviously weren't leaving without Signor Dockery. The nearest shoes were the maroon loafers, which he found in the kitchen, and as he put them on and looked for a jacket, he told himself it had to be a misunderstanding. He quickly brushed his teeth and tried to gargle away the layers of garlic and stale wine. One look in the small mirror was enough; he certainly looked guilty of something. Red puffy eyes, three days' growth, wild hair. He tousled his hair, to no effect, then grabbed his wallet, U.S. cash, apartment key, and cell phone. Maybe he should call Sam. Romo and his assistant were waiting patiently in the hallway, both smoking, neither with handcuffs. They also seemed to lack any real desire to catch criminals. Romo had watched too many detective shows, and every movement was bored and rehearsed. He nodded down the hall and said, "I follow." He dropped the cigarette in a hall ashtray, then stuck both hands deep in the pockets of his trench coat. The cop in the uniform led the perpetrator away, and Romo protected from the rear. Down three flights, onto the sidewalk. It was almost 9:00 a.m., a bright spring day. Another cop was waiting by a well- dressed Fiat sedan, complete with an array of lights and the word Polizia painted in orange on every fender. The second cop was working on a cigarette and studying the rear ends of two ladies who had just passed him. He gave Rick a look of utter disregard, then took another puff. "Let's walk," Romo said. "Is not far. You need air, I think."

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