ROME, GIANICOLO QUARTER. THE VILLA OF FABIO DESIDERI.
TEN THIRTY IN THE MORNING.
A large gate loomed up before the Audi A6. Sebastiano gestured to his driver, Furio. He got out and headed for the booth, which was manned by a heavyset guy who had, at the very least, a semiautomatic, locked and loaded, under his large bulletproof vest.
“I’m Sebastiano Laurenti. I need to see Fabio.”
“I recognized you, Signore. Don’t you remember me?”
Sebastiano scrutinized the man. Early forties, corpulent, big black handlebar mustache. A vague recollection stirred in his mind.
“Bogdan?” he tossed out.
The mustachioed man smiled, flattered.
“My compliments for your memory, Signore. Let me walk you in.”
“I know the way, thanks.”
“As you prefer, Signore.”
The gate swung open on its hinges, Sebastiano got back in the car, and the Audi rolled up the broad asphalt-paved driveway, lined with imposing pine trees. Bogdan Adir, or something like that. Yeah, now he remembered. Albanian, from Fier. Primitive and ferocious, an adept of the code of Kanun, the bible of goat herders with twisted daggers.
Fabio Desideri relied on a battalion of Albanians to provide protection to his clubs and bars, and of course to right the occasional wrong. In fact, it might have been one of Bogdan’s brothers or cousins who did that job on the poor miserable construction supervisor. A couple of years ago, Bogdan had gotten a little too smart for his own good, setting aside a modest batch of cocaine and arranging to move it independently, pocketing the proceeds. Samurai had found out about it, though who the hell knows how. And he’d ordered Sebastiano to cover it up. So now Bogdan owed him a favor.
They had arrived in a large parking circle, bounded on one side by the mansion. A late-nineteenth-century villa that Fabio Desideri had purchased at a discounted price from the morphine-addicted heir to a bitter English old maid, her nephew or something. He climbed the stairs, surrounded by elegant flowerpots.
Why had Fabio, a guy who until then had been loyal to Samurai, broken the rules?
He didn’t understand, and that made him uneasy.
Much like Sebastiano, Fabio Desideri was not descended from criminal loins. He claimed, indeed boasted, American origins, and in fact he had studied for a few years in some bilingual school, where he’d managed to squeeze out a certificate that was designed to parrot the graphics and appearance of a U.S. college diploma. His parents were honest folk, middle middle-class, you might once have called them, and it was a safe bet they had no idea at all of the kind of things their bright young son was getting up to. But whatever traits Sebastiano might share with “Fabietto,” as he was known in their circle—Little Fabio—ended there. Fabietto had become a criminal by choice. And from day one he’d displayed an unquestionable talent for his calling. He’d gotten his start peddling Samurai’s cocaine in Rome’s VIP soirées and salons, to overstate the social level a bit. In just a few years he’d become the top dog in coke dealing to the well-born and well-to-do of Rome. The kind of people you ran into in the city’s historical center. He’d even been sent off to enjoy a brief vacation at Rome’s Regina Coeli prison, in the aftermath of a brawl. He’d kept his lips stitched and he’d emerged from criminal “finishing school” with a certificate of good manners. With the passage of time, he’d diversified his activities. Now he was the owner of a chain of clubs and restaurants scattered strategically in all the key locations of the Roman movida—Prati, Trastevere, Testaccio, Ostiense, Ponte Milvio, Parioli, Flaminio—and he’d kept the coke at arm’s length. He limited himself to supplying substantial quantities to a few select customers, using the Albanians and other select operators as the “mules” shuttling around his network. For the most part professionals with dusty white nostrils, whose pay for guarding and peddling was the occasional free line to snort. If anyone had come up with the bright idea of searching Fabio’s villa or any of his establishments, they would have found nothing but an assortment of handsome antique vases, fine paintings by big-name artists, antique weapons—legally registered of course—and legitimate cigarettes with authentic tax stamps. What Sebastiano remembered about him were giddy, bubbly evenings out with fashion models, wealthy fat cats, movie starlets, and famous soccer players, as well as Samurai’s cautious, wary opinion: “He seems like he’s having fun, but he’s really just a cold bastard.”
***Fabietto had become a criminal by choice. And from day one he’d displayed an unquestionable talent for his calling.
Fabio Desideri was in his early forties, tall, fair-haired, with the carefully tended body of someone who’s spent a lot of time at the gym and is an adept of the zone diet. He wore an ultrasoft sky-blue cashmere light sweater over a cream-colored polo shirt, trousers the same color, and a pair of suede shoes without socks. A good-looking man, extremely sociable and well connected, his address book dense with names, in love with life and unfailingly good humored. Smart, he would have said of himself, using the English word even when he was speaking Italian. Skillful at speaking the brutal language of the streets and disguising himself as a high-spirited fellow partier. As confirmed by the vigorous handshake he displayed. Fabio ushered his guest into a living room whose furniture and interior decoration, distinguished by subtle, pale color tones, bespoke the work of expensive architects. A tip of the hat. Two outstandingly beautiful young women got to their feet as the men arrived.
“Cheryl, Fionnula, this is Sebastiano. Practically speaking, one of the masters of Rome.”
Cheryl was a black fashion model, who stood six foot one, with the physique of a gazelle, long slender arms, fleshy lips, and a blank look in her eyes. She was in Rome for a private runway presentation for a Russian billionaire. Fionnula was a redhead with stunningly white skin, almost translucent, with a broken gaze and perfect breasts, which you could just intuit, braless, under a silk blouse. She sang in a pop band that was pretty well known, and after the runway presentation she was scheduled to perform for a small, lucky audience in one of Fabio’s clubs.
Sebastiano said hello to the girls, polite but chilly, and after a quick exchange of courteous chitchat, they left the two men alone to talk.
“Can I offer you anything, Sebastiano?”
“No thanks. I’m here to talk.”
“I know, I know, but first . . . I need to ask your advice, Sebastia’.”
“Yeah, it’s about those two girls, the redhead and the black girl. Which one do you prefer?”
Sebastiano suppressed the urge to tell him to go fuck himself. That’s just the way Fabio was. He was going to have to give him some rope. The master of the house settled onto a horsehide chaise longue and set forth in a frivolous tone of voice the existential doubt that had been tormenting him. The black girl was undoubtedly the winner if you were taking about sheer physical beauty, but years of hard experience in the field of fashion models had warned him not to trust physical appearances: there could be a lot of ice beneath that façade, too much. In that case, he ought to choose the redhead, but there too he feared certain contraindications. Fionnula, like so many of her people, for that matter, liked alcohol, a lot, even too much. And the sexual performance of drunk women can frequently be quite disappointing.
“Certainly, I could always suggest a little threesome action, but you never know how they’d take it. All they’d have to do is get offended, and the next thing you know I’m high and dry. Don’t you think, Sebastia’?”
He’d had enough. With a decisive gesture he put a halt to Fabio’s word-vomit and told him again that he was there for a specific reason. Danilo Mariani.
“Why don’t you relax, Sebastia’, you’re always worrying about work.”
“Was there any need for such extreme violence? You should have just come to me.”
Fabio’s voice become even more cordial, if that was possible.
“Yes, that’s true, I could have. But I said to myself: You need to send a very clear message, Fabio. Our friend Danilo has been telling me to go fuck myself for months now. He refused to come to the telephone, there was no discussion of payment, you can’t even begin to guess the kind of excuses he’d come up with, and in the end, instead of paying what he owed me, do you think he didn’t just ask for another shipment? On credit! I have to say: too much is too much, no? I don’t like violence one bit, Sebastia’, but there are times when there’s no other option. You wouldn’t want me to be taken for the kind of guy who lets other guys run up lots of debt and eat out at his expense.”“I don’t like violence one bit, Sebastia’, but there are times when there’s no other option. You wouldn’t want me to be taken for the kind of guy who lets other guys run up lots of debt and eat out at his expense.”
Fabio admitted it, then. As if it stood to reason. Obvious and unavoidable. Nonchalantly, he took responsibility. The uneasiness increased in the back of Sebastiano’s mind.
Danilo had been a pretext. The message was for him and for Samurai.
“Sure, I could have done that,” the asshole had said.
“I could have.” He hadn’t said, “I should have.”
The two men eyed each other for a few seconds, then Sebastiano said that he’d arrange personally to honor the debt.
“You’ll get your money, Fabio. If I’m not mistaken, it’s five hundred . . . ”
Fabio smiled, as if a great burden had just been lifted from his soul.
“There’s no hurry, my friend.”
“I’ll see to it personally. Shall we say . . . in a week’s time?”
“Oh, take all the time you want, perish the thought!”
Sebastiano stood up suddenly and held out his hand.
“Then we’re agreed.”
The other man grabbed Sebastiano’s hand and gripped it hard.
“You feel like coming to the party tonight? We’re going to have fun.”
“Some other time, Fabio.”
“Sebastiano Laurenti, the tireless protector of the peace. Give my regards to Samurai.”
After seeing Sebastiano to the door, Fabio Desideri came back to the living room. He lit a Cohiba cigar, poured himself a dollop of chilled white wine, and waited a few minutes until he felt perfectly calm. Calm and full of energy. In contrast to the confidence he’d displayed in the presence of Samurai’s lieutenant, he’d actually looked forward to that meeting with abject fear, more than anything else. An unusual response for him, but such was the situation. For some time now he’d been nurturing an ambitious project. More or less since the German had taken up a permanent spot in the city council and the grand maneuvers had begun to renegotiate all the long-standing pacts and agreements. More than once, he’d been on the verge of taking irrevocable action. But if there was one reason he’d hesitated, it was an exceedingly clear one. Such a step meant there would be no turning back, and it might have meant the end of him. All the same, you can’t dither eternally, or else the magic moment turns into a poignant and pointless instant of regret, and the whole magnificent castle you’ve erected over the years collapses into sand. Therefore, when Danilo Mariani had offered him that priceless opportunity, he’d seized the day. No more waiting, or he’d never be anything more than good old Fabietto. The winds were in his favor. With the old guard decimated by waves of arrests and Samurai behind bars, a young man with the right temperament saw the highway in front of him in his hand. The more time Samurai spent waiting for the special detention provisions of Article 41-bis of the criminal code to time out, and the weaker his grip on the city became: sooner or later a king in exile just becomes an exile. Either the exile comes to an end or the king dies, and once the king is dead, long live the king.
The new one, that is.
The wild card was, of course, Sebastiano. That’s why this meeting had filled him with such dread. But in the end, it had turned out to be a successful bet. After watching him lower his feathers, apparently placated in the presence of Fabio’s bemused and friendly demeanor, Fabio had come to realize that Samurai’s heir apparent was actually, deep down, just a straw man. None of what he’d feared—a spectrum of criminal possibilities that ranged from a violent verbal set-to all the way out to immediate and permanent payback—had happened. If he’d been dealing with Samurai instead of the young man . . . Well, then that meeting would never even have taken place. And Fabio would have come to bitterly regret his audacious move. Sebastiano had raised an eyebrow and then, once and for all, he’d submitted to the state of affairs. He lacked the balls, as his Albanian friends would have noted. Sebastiano was not now, and never would be, Samurai. Which meant that he, Fabio, would not only be popular, indispensable, and respected. But also feared. Feared and venerated. The alternative was clear now.
So either the youngster comes around, or we have to wipe him out.
Little Fabio is dead, long live Big Fabio.
From THE NIGHT OF ROME. Used with the permission of the publisher, Europa. Copyright © 2019 by Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo De Cataldo. Translation copyright © 2019 by Antony Shugaar.