Friday Night Story

One More Night

We draw straws every time we have to travel by car; the man with the short straw starts the car, and takes it around the block. Our car has electronic countermeasures, not dissimilar to those used by the US military in Iraq, and while no countermeasure is ever 100%, this increases the likelihood of a mechanical detonator rather than a remote one. I’ve seen car bombs triggered by pressure on the pedals, the opening of doors, detonators attached to the knobs of the radio or air conditioning, even one instance where it was attached to the choke plate inside a carburetor. Thankfully we’re in Naples, so it isn’t necessary to drive often.

It’s a warm evening, and though there are clouds, I don’t think it will rain. The street is rimmed with illicit men on illicit business, but they keep their affairs to the shadows, so we pay them no mind. We tense as a group for a moment as a vehicle passes from behind; it’s too late to preempt violence, too early yet to react to it.

The car is a Carabinieri van that stops in the middle of the street, and military policemen rush in all directions. They arrest the johns and the drug buyers, but the panderers and peddlers walk away, satisfied with the knowledge that the police can’t touch them. Their impotence predates even our disgraceful President’s ties to the Cosa Nostra, dating back decades if not centuries in a disgraceful coexistence. Unlike the gangs of Los Angeles or the pirates of Somalia, it isn’t poverty that attracts young men to the ranks of the Camorra- it is the glamorous lifestyle they provide, the respect and admiration even responsible women have for a “mafioso face.”

The Camorra kill one person every three days on average; I find myself thinking on that since I began this assignment, and every third day, I tell myself another person has died in a war we’re not even fighting. It’s unfortunate timing that tonight is the third day, again; I can’t afford the paranoia tonight, and I bury the thought where it will keep me from sleep on my own time.

I’m on the security detail of a journalist, marked for death by the Camorra by Christmas, for breaking the sacred tradition of omertá. As the Sicilian proverb says, “Cu è surdu, orbu e taci, campa cent'anni 'mpaci,” he who is deaf, blind, and silent will live a hundred years in peace- the implication of course that he who isn’t, won’t.

And that’s why we’re on the streets tonight; Roberto wanted to take the air. I’ve been a part of his escort long enough not to argue; it took him only three minutes to convince Giovanni that only by cowering at the Camorra’s threats did we let them win. There’s a loud pop that echoes through the alley; Gio pushes Roberto to the wall, and covers him with his body. I don’t move, because I recognize the sound: a bottle of wine uncorked beside an open window. The rest of the walk becomes something more; the feeling of a cheated death fills us with a wine-warmth that robs even the clouds of their prohibitions, and we arrive home refreshed.

Roberto isn’t dead; Italy can breathe freely one more night.

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