Prolog — Part 2

The thrill of the sea spray, the wind, the bouncing and jostling of the Zodiac always excited him. He could think of nothing he would prefer at three in the morning. Stefano had the compass and kept waving directions when he veered, pushed off course by an unforgiving sea.

The chop got worse as Capri receded. There was no protection from the wind, but he loved it. He was captain, so he had the wheel. And what a wheel. What speed. He had no idea what knots were but knew he would be doing over thirty klicks an hour with an open throttle. On the sea, that was a fantastic feeling.

Stefano started to wave. Beni eased back on the throttle. He, too, could see the beam of light lancing from a point at sea where no land could be. The freighter. As soon as they were gently rocking in the waves, he lifted his torch and flashed a response. It was a game. Buttagazzo had told him the Guardia could do nothing. They were outside Italian waters. The threat would be when they were returning.

Beni didn’t think there was much threat, even when they were returning. This was his fourth trip, and he’d seen nothing of the sbirri or the Guardia. It was as if they didn’t care. They had billions of lire’s worth of hi-tech boating resting idly in the port of Miseno. Sure, he’d heard the engines booming across the bay. Anyone who lived around Baia had listened to those engines. They shook buildings and made teeth rattle. Beni had never seen one.

The freighter had a loading door in the hull. After they pulled up alongside, it didn’t take long to load the crates. Ten minutes and he was again feeling the thrill of pure power. The bow lifting out of the waves like some monstrous creature from the deep, one of the spooky black and white ones from the American films he’d snuck in to see.

They’d made it into the gap between Capri and the coast when Stefano started to wave frantically like he was signalling an aeroplane with a paddle. Beni eased off the throttle and let the Zodiac come to a rest, swaying gently in the wash.

‘What’s up?’

‘Can’t you hear it?’ Stefano frowned at him.

Cupping his ear, Beni listened. Finally, he could hear a muted roar over the other noises. It was growing. ‘What’s that?’

‘That’s the Guardia interceptor. They’re coming for us.’

‘What are we going to do?’ Beni asked.

‘We’ll have to run for it. Hope they miss us.’

‘Are they likely to?’

‘No idea. Only one way to find out,’ Stefano said, his glum look a sure indication of what he thought their chances might be.

They found out quickly.

As they raced out from their cover, the interceptor was frowning at them with a glaring white light. Splashes of water in front of the Zodiac were followed by a booming dub, dub, dub, and a mechanical voice ordering them to heave to. There was no arguing with the guns, which would tear the Zodiac into plastic strips and its crew into shark food. Beni turned the engine off and waited calmly.

He knew he had nothing to fear.

Before long, a Zodiac like theirs came into view. It was smaller, and Beni guessed it had been launched off the interceptor. There were Guardia in it, pointing guns at them. ‘Get your hands up.’

It was less than ten minutes before they were pulling themselves up the ladder into the Guardia’s boat. Beni was impressed. He couldn’t ignore the beauty of its hard lines and massive engines, throbbing right into his guts, making his teeth ache. He threw his leg over the side to find a man standing on deck wearing chinos and a summer jacket.

‘Where’s your uniform?’ he asked before he could stop himself.

‘Not Guardia. I’m a detective. Pozzuoli Serious Crimes. Just observing here.’

‘What. Like watching the boat crew?’

‘What’s your name, guaglio?’ the man asked, the accent causing Beni to frown.

‘You a local?’ Most sbirri he dealt with were not from around Napoli.

‘Baia born and bred. Why’d you ask?’

‘No reason. Just most of the sbirri and Guardia are from up north. Seems us locals ain’t to be trusted.’

‘Yeah, I guess. Anyway, what’s your name, kid?’

‘Beni di Cuma.’

The cop smiled and nodded, making like he was on Beni’s side. He grinned. The idiot thought he would be swayed by false friendship because they were paisan; thought they would be best buddies. He didn’t need any buddies in the cops. He had his sbirro in Pozzuoli, who was working for the Secret Service. The Secret Service would have the power to keep him out of La Casa.

‘This’ll warm you up,’ the cop offered his hipflask. Beni took a swig before handing it to Stefano.

‘Who’d you work for, Beni?’ he asked. ‘My guess is the Buttagazzi crew,’ he said.

Beni shrugged and turned to look at Capri, quickly receding as they headed into port. He thought the cop would know. He thought they all knew. Did they not talk to each other? He supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. All the different types of cops Naples had, and they all thought they were better. The Gatti Neri, the Guardia, the sbirri, all thought the others should bow to them. Never mind the Secret Service, who were chosen by God himself.

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