Firenze

Martina Ciampi delicately chose one of the tomatoes with her fingernails.  Maybe this was the man she needed, but she was too old a bunny to be taken in by a big reputation.  Men were dreadful gossips, all balls and bragging.  Still, if even half of what “they say” about this man was true, the saints had provided him for her at exactly the right moment.  Because men, like this man, were good for one thing (outside the bedroom) – violence. And Signora Ciampi needed a lot of violence right now.  She bit the tomato.  And with a little help, this man could deliver it for her.

Dreyfus did wonder what the woman across from him was thinking, but in all honesty, he didn’t really care.  He’d just been thrown sideways out of an ordinary tit-for-tat revenge story into a sinister business that was probably beyond his power to correct.  He selected another slice of wild boar and some bread and waited.  Now he needed this woman’s information, but it looked as if she was going to tell him the whole long story.

“Two brothers,” she began, “They came to Florence after Kosovo.  At first, no one cared.  Italian cities are full of people no one wants – refugees, migrants, gypsies – and the brothers fed on these throwaways.  And they got fat on the food no one else wanted.  No one complains when the faceless ones disappear or end up floating in the Arno with no kidneys.  And the brothers got rich, and the brothers got bold.  They bought businesses and brought their friends from Albania to run them.  Italians …” Martina wiped her hand through the air, “Don’t work for these men.  Now they think they own the streets.”

“Do they?”  Dreyfus asked offhandedly.

Martina sipped her wine and turned her head.  Should she lie to this man?

“Not all of them.” There was venom. “Not yet.”

Dreyfus chewed a little too deliberately.  This just kept getting worse.  Apparently, he’d stumbled into a turf war as well, but, more importantly, he’d accidently given this woman a primo opportunity to set up a game of lets-you-and-him-fight.  Smart Dreyfus was telling him to finish his wine, make his excuses and run.  But the other Dreyfus was sitting there, eating wild boar salami and wondering how much ammunition was in the package Sydney had left him at the hotel.

“But they think this can be their town, and they want to show everybody they can do what they please in their town.  They reach beyond the faceless ones.”  Martina made a claw with her hand and shook it, “To my people.  People who look at me to protect them.”

“My English girl?”

“She was at a party.  Too much to drink.  It’s happened before.”  It was dismissive, and Martina settled back in her chair and cut another piece of cheese.

Dreyfus swallowed and reached for his wine.  This was taking too long.  He needed information, not a history lesson.

‘How many?”

Should she lie to this man?

“Maybe twenty – uh – twenty hard men.  No more than that.  The rest …” Martina made a sneering face and shifted her eyes over Dreyfus’ shoulder.

He wondered if this woman was lying.  “That’s not very many.  In a place this size, you’ve got to have three times that many, maybe more.”  Dreyfus lifted his shoulder and opened his hand. “Why are you even worried?”

Martina shrugged. “The time when, the Ciampi didn’t worry about anything, but today – puh! — Italian men are soft.  They like their Lamborghini, their Gucci, their Romanian maiala.  Tight pants and no favas.  The days of the Liccasapuni are over.  Now we negotiate.  Talk.  Like bankers.”  Nobody does scorn like an Italian woman who feels she’s been wronged.

Holy hell!  This wasn’t just a turf war: it was an all-in-the-family power struggle.  Clearly, the young stuff wanted to live and let live with the Albanians, but Mamma was more interested in live and let die.  But why was this woman telling him all this?  It didn’t make any sense.  She could have (should have) just shopped the Albanian brothers as heroin dealers and been on her way.  The voice of smart Dreyfus was louder now, practically shouting at him to run … but it was too late.  The trap was already sprung.  Dreyfus felt the movement over his shoulder.  His eyes instinctively searched the table for something sharp.  The cheese knife?  Dreyfus turned just slightly as the driver stepped past.  He leaned down and whispered into Martina Ciampi’s ear.  She looked away, then looked directly at Dreyfus.

“The Albanians have taken the woman Perry-Turner.  They came to the …”

Dreyfus held a finger in the air, and for a nanosecond, his eyes betrayed his absolute fury.  Martina shuddered in surprise, and the driver stepped back and automatically reached inside his coat.

Don’t!” Dreyfus snarled.  There was a second of suspended animation.  Jonathan McCormick had warned him about this.  But he hadn’t listened.  And when he looked, all he saw was what he assumed was already there – a couple of lowlife drug dealers.  He’d been blindsided by his own expectations.  Now what?  There was only one way out.  Quit being played.  Do the unexpected, and put these people on the wrong foot for a while – all of them.  Dreyfus reached for the wine pitcher and poured some into his glass.  He looked back at Martina — measuring her – but only his eyes moved.  There was no anger in his face, just a terrible indifference — and it scared her.

“I’m not going to ask you how they know who we are,” he said evenly.  He cut a piece of cheese and took a slice of capocollo.  He’d had enough wild boar for a while.

“Just so,” Martina thought. “He said he was a deliberate man.”  But this was all wrong.  Suddenly, Signora Ciampi was wary of this man.

Dreyfus looked at the driver.  “You need to go wait in the car.”  He leaned back in his chair and turned to Martina. “And you need to tell me about these Albanian brothers.  We’ve got all afternoon, so I want the details.”  Dreyfus lifted his glass and drank.

Government?

Look across the civilized world and you’re invariably going to find an election.  This is a quaint institution where every once in a while ordinary people decide who’s going to kick them around for the next couple of years.  Once it’s over half the people are pleased and the other half are pissed off.  But that’s the nature of democracy: somebody’s gotta lose, and losers are generally vocal about it.  In fact (and it’s a little known fact) the word “democracy’ comes from two words: “demos” (a corruption of “demons”) and “cracy” (a corruption of “crazy.”)  These were the pejorative terms opponents shouted at each other in the Athenian Agora where democracy was born.  However, despite the sophisticated name calling, Greek democracy was very primitive.  For example, not everybody got to vote — or even speak — including slaves, women, Pericles’ mistress Aspasia, convicted felons, tax evaders and anybody named Xerxes.  Nor was democracy universally accepted.  The great philosopher Socrates wasn’t a fan and advocated that only men who wore socks should vote.  When the youth of Athens began wearing socks and sandals, he was put to death.  (Rightly so!)  Some years later, Alexander the Great came along and put Athenian democracy to death — where it lay dormant for about 2000 years.  The democracy we know is a weird evolution of English barons, Boston lawyers, Virginia farm boys, French revolutionaries and John Stuart Mill.  It serves us well, but it’s by no means the only form of government available.  Here are a few other systems of note.

Monarchy – Named for the Monarch butterfly, this is government by glamour with plenty of crowns and gowns to go around.  Monarchy is characterized by over-the-top weddings, footmen, tiaras and glass slippers.  And even though one out of two princes are charming, monarchy has some serious enemies — such as spinning wheels, poison apples and wicked stepmothers.  However, when done properly, Monarchy can result in happily ever after.  (I’m lookin’ at you, Kate.) 

Authoritarianism – Sometimes called “tyranny,” “despotism” or “one-man rule” — whatever it’s called, though, it invariably works the same.   There’s always a short man who didn’t get laid in high school.  He somehow seizes power and spends the next few years acting like a paranoid dick to everybody.  (Hence the name – dictator.)  Dictators are characterized by funny hats, funny haircuts and no sense of humour.  And they don’t like to be called Winnie the Pooh.

Theocracy – No idea what this is, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t some silly-ass notion that religious leaders should run the government!  I mean really!  Nobody’s that stupid!

Tribalism – See Facebook.

Fascism – You get to march a lot, but you have to do as you’re told.

Patriarchy – This is where women do all the work and men sit around talking politics.

Matriarchy – Oddly enough, this is also where women do all the work and men sit around talking politics.

Parliamentarianism – This is a combination of two French words, “parle” which means “to talk” and “merde” which means – uh – google it.  The theory behind government by parliament is if enough elected officials talk enough shit long enough, eventually the problem will simply go away.  The best example of parliamentarianism is Canada where they’ve been talking about poverty, homelessness and unemployment for 50 years.

Republic – Parliamentarianism on the Potomac.

Anarchy – This looks great on paper but normally ends up with a big, ugly biker drinking beer out of the skull of the college sophomore who thought it was a cool idea.  It’s basically Mad Max meets academia. 

Communism – Sometimes called Soviet Democracy, there’s only one party, and it isn’t very much fun.

Socialism – Favoured by actors, rock stars and other rich people, the single premise of socialism is somebody else (normally called “they”) isn’t paying their fair share.  Socialists are political tourists who drink champagne, ride around in limousines, attend the occasional rally and then retreat to the leafy green suburbs to contemplate their awareness.

Polygamy – Oops!  Wrong blog!

Ochlocracy – This is a fancy word for Mob Rule.  It was made popular during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, and if you still think you’d like a taste of it, open a Twitter account.

Oligarchy – Not to be confused with Russian gangsters, this is where several groups of powerful people get together, hijack the government and do whatever the hell they like because they’re so badass/ruthless, ordinary people are too scared to …. Hey!  Wait a minute!

Meritocracy – A Cloud-cuckoo-land form of government popular with children and those college sophomores again.

Magocracy – A society ruled by magicians.  It’s hard to explain, but essentially it’s Harry, Hermione and Ron Weasley running the show.

Plutocracy – This is rule by rich people who – I suppose — take their instructions from Pluto.  This form of government has probably fallen into disfavour since a gang of treacherous scientists defrocked the tiny planet.

And finally, two forms of government that are very popular these days:

Kakistocracy – This is where the voting public continually elect the stupidest people possible and then wonder why nothing ever gets done.

Kleptocracy – This is where people vote for the candidate who certainly seems sincere — only to be taken in by these con artists who, once elected, turn out to be nothing more than common thieves.

The Next Day – In Florence

Florence is a tourist town.  Like Venice, it’s full of trudging backpacks with sensible shoes, queueing up and sitting down and taking photographs and spending money.  Every day (there is no tourist “season” anymore) from dawn until way beyond dark, the narrow medieval streets are overwhelmed by these grim-faced invaders.  But unlike Venice, in Florence, a few streets away from David and the Uffizi, there’s another city – Firenze – a tough little Tuscan town that hasn’t changed its ways since the Medici held sway on the banks of the Arno.  Dreyfus, Emily and Janet Miller chose to stay in a hotel deep in the heart of tourist country.  It overlooked the river and was within shouting distance of the Ponte Vecchio – three more anonymous foreign faces in the shadow of the Basilica.  Dreyfus would find Firenze later; right now, he was just trying to keep up with Emily’s rapid fire Italian — and Janet’s awkward what-do-I-do-with-my-hands was getting on his nerves.

“They’re going to meet us at a restaurant by the school,” Emily said as she gathered their passports, “I’ve sent the luggage up, and I’ve got directions.”

The man behind the reception desk caught Dreyfus’s eye, and they nodded acknowledgement.  Sydney’s package had arrived.  Dreyfus would pick it up later.

“I need – uh – I need, I need to change …” Janet half stood and pulled at her shirt.

“No, Jans– you’re fine.”  Emily stepped over, straightened her friend’s button line and brushed her hair back with her fingers.  “C’mon, we have to go.”

A few streets, a few turns, a few shops and shoppers, and fifteen silent walking minutes later, they found Piazza degli Strozzi.  It was long and thin, bright and grey and paved with new stones.  There were two sets of outdoor tables ahead of them, and from there, across the square, a dark-haired woman stood up.  A second, two — then steps, faster steps, a heel-clicking half run and the three women met and hugged and cried and clung to each other like rescued survivors.  Dreyfus slowed.  None of this was his, and he knew enough to casually stay away.  By the time he reached them, the tears were being sniffled and swallowed and hunted by Kleenex.  Through the sorrys and sympathies, there was suddenly a man with his hand out and …

“Jans, here– use this …”

“Let me see what …”

“Oh, Magpie. I knew you’d come.  I just couldn’t …”

Magpie? Dreyfus made a note to save that for a better time.

“Sinclair, isn’t it?”  The hand had a voice, and Dreyfus reached forward. “James Montrose, we met …”

“Yes, I remember.  My condolences.  This is a terrible time for you.”

“It’s a bad business.” Montrose’s voice shook against his middleclass upbringing.  For a few seconds they stood there, two men awkwardly aware they couldn’t help the women next to them, rescue them, make it better – fix anything.  They were without purpose.  But that changed.  A heavy Mercedes slowly rolled through the square and stopped beside them.  The driver got out.  In the afternoon sun, he wore a black leather jacket.

“Riccardo Ciampi,” he said at them.

Dreyfus looked at Emily.  She was surprised but nodded her approval.

Dreyfus turned back to Montrose.  “I’m very sorry, but I have some business to take care of, and it simply can’t wait.  Maybe we can get together later.”  Then he looked back to Emily: “Go ahead.  I’ll find you.”  As Dreyfus walked over to the car, the driver opened the rear passenger door.

Florence isn’t a large place, but it’s not built for automobiles, so it took the driver some time to cross the river and get to where he wanted to go.  Finally, he stopped beside a three-table restaurant, stuck on a narrow Y street corner.  He got out and opened the door for Dreyfus.  Dreyfus got out and saw a woman sitting at the furthest table.  She was of an age, certainly more than sixty, but after that ….  She was too handsome to have ever been a great beauty, but her cheekbones made her attractive, and her eyes made her interesting.

“You are Dreyfus Sinclair.” It wasn’t a question, and there was only a trace of Italian pronunciation.

Dreyfus nodded and didn’t wait for an invitation to sit down. “And you are?”

The woman offered a brown earthen jug.  Dreyfus reached over and poured himself a glass of deep red wine.

“Our grapes.  Do you eat?”

Dreyfus nodded and tasted the wine.  There was no suggestion of a toast.  He nodded again, set the glass down and waited.

“I am Martina Ciampi.  My son is a busy man, so I will help you with the dead English girl.” 

He turned his head slightly in a question.  Martina Ciampi smiled.

“When an English girl dies in Italy, everyone wants answers.”

Dreyfus noticed there was no traffic, no people walking, no anything except the two of them and the man standing by the car.  And even though it was a warm afternoon, most of the upper windows of the buildings around them were shuttered.  It made Dreyfus extremely aware that the gun he’d asked Sydney to get for him was sitting in a box back at the hotel.

“I don’t care about answers.  All I want to know is who gave her the White Powder.  Tell me that and we can be friends.”

A young woman came out of the tiny restaurant with a wooden platter of sliced meat, quartered tomatoes, bread and cheese.  She set it down on the table and turned away without looking at anything.

“Everyone knows Dreyfus Sinclair is a bad enemy.”  Martina stabbed a single slice of meat off the tray and held it in the air “But is he a good friend?” She slid the meat off the knife with her teeth.

“Everyone knows?”

“Powerful men have long arms, and when Jonathon McCormick sends you as his fist, people talk.  They say you’re untouchable.”

Dreyfus laughed, cut a piece of cheese and ate it off his knife.

“People say a lot of things, and this has nothing to do with Jonathan McCormick.”

“Hmm, just so.  He said you were an honest man.” Martina pointed to the tray.  “Wild boar.  Good for the stomach.”  She leaned sideways, reached into a large bag at her feet, brought out two pale blue folders and put them on the table.

“This is the police report.  It will be released with the girl’s body in two days.  Drug overdose, very sad.  It’s written in English.  You can read it if you like, but,” the woman slowly shook her head, “It’s a … a fantasy.”

Dreyfus took a slice of wild boar sausage, put it on a piece of bread and ate it.  He didn’t touch the folder.

“This is the other report, in Italian.  Will I tell you what it says?”

“Please.”  Dreyfus continued chewing and reached for his wine.

“The English girl,” Martina opened the folder and read from the first page, “Jordyn Janet Montrose died of pulmonary aspiration.”

Dreyfus swallowed, “She choked on her own vomit?”

Martina looked up from the page.

“The needle?”

“There was no heroin in her body except around the puncture wound.”

“So why,” Dreyfus reached his index finger over and tapped the file, “This?”

Martina tilted her head.  Dreyfus thought about it for a couple of seconds.  Clearly this woman was enjoying this a lot more than he was.  It was time to speed things up.

“Alright.  I’m not playing cat-and-mouse all afternoon.  Thanks for the vino.”  Dreyfus finished the glass, set it down and stood up.  The man at the car straightened.

“Hmm, just so.  He said you were direct.” Martina closed the folder and motioned for Dreyfus to sit down, “We’ll be direct, you and I.  Your pretty English girl had a bad reaction to anesthetic and died on an operating table.  There was vaginal bruising and bleeding.”

“Abortion?” Dreyfus interrupted.  Now he was confused.  He sat down.

“No,” Martina sipped her wine, “They were gathering eggs.  Like a farmer in the hen house.”

Sunny Italian afternoons are for lazy conversations about art and love and beauty; they’re not about greasy alleyways and murky light and wicked men with dirty fingers.  It was immediately clear to Dreyfus Sinclair – a random drug overdose was unfortunate but palatable; an abducted teenager, harvested for parts, was not for public consumption.  He felt like he needed a shower, but he poured another glass of wine.  After a few seconds …

“Alright.  Who?  And where do I find them?”