Monthly Archives: July 2023
To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1. Then navigate to subsequent posts using the links in the upper corners.
Giuseppe and Jacques
The Roman Summit
Giuseppe Linguale sat across from his rival and French counterpart, Jacques L’Enfant, on the upper level of the Roman eatery Sacro e Profano. They were just finishing up the secondo course. Linguale had done some serious damage to his veal parmigiana and a bowl of gnocchi while simultaneously dominating the conversation. He paused momentarily to take a breath and sip his half-full glass of Chianti. Then he peered across the table at his Parisian guest as if suddenly surprised by his observation.
“Jacques, you have barely touched your food. Cosa c’e che non va?”
L’Enfant’s superior yet constipated visage relayed his consummate displeasure with the Italian fare of this bourgeois restaurant. A small Margherita pizza with a small wedge missing rested on a white plate before him looking like a smile minus a front tooth. The wedge in question sat askew with only a single serrated bite missing. The majority of a large meatball in a shallow bowl appeared as if it had been nibbled on by an oversized vermin. Only his glass of Prosecco had seen any semblance of consumption. Only an inch remained in the crystal goblet. He mumbled something in disgust under his breath in French as Linguale who could not be want any longer for a response stuffed the final square of breaded meat into his mouth.
L’Enfant brushed his lips with the starched linen napkin and dropped it onto his food and was thinking about the fine Parisian meal he had foregone to attend this tete-a-tete. At this very moment, he could have been sitting in the grande brasserie traditionelle,–Le Malakoff–partaking of un cassolette de escargots de Bourgogne followed by escalope de saumon à l’oseille and a fine bottle of champagne. Perhaps a Taittinger Brut Prestige Rose or maybe a bottle of Sancerre. His table would peer out onto the half-moon traffic circle of the Place du Trocadero et du 11 Novembre and the statue of Ferdinand Foch on his proud steed. In the distance, he could gaze out on a glorious view of the Iron Lady as Citroens, Peugeots, Fiats or an occasional Mercedes zipped around the square. No, instead he was seated here with this macaroni. He pushed the thought from his mind and delivered his next words in a frustrated and hurried manner. “Gio, you have dragged me all the way from Paris. It’s about time we get down to business. You said this trip would be worth my time.”
Linguale had dominated the conversation since they’d been seated. He had yammered on about a multitude of topics. The subjects were not where close to being germane to Linguale’s reason for calling the conference. For nearly thirty minutes, L’Enfant has endured and he rambled about: the deplorable state of Italian politics including the death of Silvio Berlusconi and his embarrassing and many controversial faux pas; the equally shameful performance of the nation’s soccer; the economy and the price of a decent pack of sigarettas.
Linguale’s lips spread into a thin, taut line. “Naturalmente. Scusa, I talk too much,” he replied. “I’ve been this way ever since I uttered my first words.” Linguale was not the least bit sorry. He hated to be sitting here with this Gaul asking for un favore. Every syllable the Italian had uttered had been calculated to irritate him and at the same time guide L’Enfant exactly where Linguale wanted him to go. “I promise you it will be well worth it.”
Sacro e Profano, the converted church once owned by the noble Roman Ficcocia family, dated from the twelfth century. The interior possessed the amber glow of golden sconces, the rugged and unyielding façades of red brick and rust-tinged tiles framed by caramel wrought iron.
The second floor dining area was an oversized balcony following the contour of the interior walls and overlooked the first floor, a centrally-located pizza oven and cooking space along with a small but well-stocked bar. Michelangelo-style frescoes set in recessed rounded arches looked down over the space. The unique juxtaposition of the ancient Roman art and the modern dining environ was not unpleasing to the eye. This upper space was unoccupied save for six men. Linguale, the Roman Don and L’Enfant, the French Parrain and their security details. L’Enfant was accompanied by a single beefy Parisian stationed at the head of the stairs, standing at parade rest. The only part of his body that moved were his eyes, keeping an unwavering vigil. A visible bulge under his left armpit foretold his lethal capabilities. His dark suit, threatening to burst at the seams, failed to conceal his brawn. Linguale’s first counterpart, equally buff and armed, stood his post a few feet from the Frenchman mirroring his stolid and intimidating mien. Linguale’s second guardia del corpo overwatched the first floor at the interior corner of the balcony diametrically across from the stairs providing a clear vantage point and advance warning of potential interlopers from below. Finally, a young waiter clad in black trousers and a starched white shirt with a white apron cinched tightly around his waist waited stiffly at the waiter’s station, trying to appear nonchalant, ready to pounce, at the next request from either of the criminal titans.
Linguale–who was well acquainted with the owner and frequented the restaurant at least twice a month–had called ahead and asked that every second story table to be completely vacated beginning the hour before his reservation and to remain unoccupied during dinner and for another thirty minutes after Linguale and his guest departed. For this privilege, the Italian crime boss paid the proprietor the equivalent of the twice the lost receipts. He also included a generous gratuity for the wait and cook staff.
“Jacques,” he began. “I have kept tabs on you and your affari. You have eliminated all your competitors and run all the rackets and drug rings in Paris from the E15 west to Normandy and north to Belgium. You have well-positioned your organization.” He smiled a broad winning smile. Behind the genial facade, Linguale dispised this tete de noeud. He was a caricature of a traditional Frenchmen. His perpetual moue. His condescending attitude. His dress. Hell, the only thing missing was the goddamned beret.
Jacques L’Enfant was immune to the Italian’s bluster. He glared back at Linguale unflinching, waiting for him to get to the point. After nearly twenty seconds, the Italian’s smile dimmed slightly.
“We have an opportunity, amico mio.”
L’Enfant nodded once, indicating the uomo had his attention. “Continuez.”
“My capos in Virginia are rapidly losing ground to the Cubans. My don there, Tommy Romano is losing control of the region known as Tidewater. He is fat and getting lazy. He is letting his lieutenants slacken. How do you say…compiacente…complacent.” Linguale’s words were stilted and heavily accented English. Neither spoke the other’s mother tongue. Though neither were no fluent in English, it was their common language. “I would like to take back the regione and send that Spic bastard back to Havana.”
“So do it. Pourquoi are you asking for my help?”
“The mid-Atlantic area from Maryland, Virginia to Northern North Carolina is a ripe market. Many young people. The United States military is thick in that region. Lots of bases. Navy. Air Force. Lots of customers. But we are losing ground. I do not have the manpower to control the whole area. But between our two organizations, we could devour the competition. He doesn’t know it yet. But Big Tommy will be sacked. I have a man in mind in Roma who will take his place.”
L’Enfant pursed his lips, pondering the statement.
Linguale pushed two plates away to create space on the table. He removed an expensive fountain pen, unscrewed the cap and drew a crude map of Maryland, the District of Columbia, all of Virginia and a portion of North Carolina on the linen. He traced a horizontal line through the center of Virginia. “You would take the north,” he declared, tapping the nib of the pen above the line. “I would take the south. I can muster about fifteen men. With another fifteen men from your organization, we can each turn the current soldiers and recruit new Americans and take out the Cuban and his lieutenants.” Linguale paused and for emphasis said, “Big Tommy.” He stopped speaking, extended the index finger of his right hand a drew it across his throat.
After Linguale signaled that his man Tommy in Virginia was as good as dead, L’Enfant held the Italian’s gaze for almost fifteen seconds. He could sense that the silence–as silence always did–ripped at Linguale’s soul. It was like a raging river swelling behind a dam, waiting to burst forth. L’Enfant silently enjoyed watching him squirm. He was intrigued by the offer. He had had a stranglehold on the drug, prostitution and gambling rackets in Paris and northern France for the last three years and was ready for a new challenge, more territory and greater revenues.
Six months ago his organization had eliminated the last competitor in a very gruesome fashion. The parrain of the smaller but pesky rival gang along with his top four lieutenants had been executed in royal fashion–literally. L’Enfant had arranged for the five men who were dining casually in a restaurant in the Sixth to be kidnapped by a squad of ten of his best tueurs a gages or hitmen. The hostages were taken to an abandoned warehouse near the Roland Garros tennis complex in the Sixteenth. Separately, they were tortured mercilessly for information for nearly twelve hours. As dawn broke and after L’Enfant was certain that every ounce of information had been squeezed from each man, the five were brought back together in a large central room. The chairs to which they’d been secured were set in a circle around an antique wooden guillotine. The device was old, the wood scratched and distressed. But the angled blade gleamed in the wash of the assassins flashlights. One by one each man was lain on their backs on the bench under the sharp, suspended trapezoid of metal ensuring that their last vision was the heavy blade careening toward them. After the deed was done, a large basket collected the severed heads and spurting blood of each doomed man.
The four lieutenants were executed first, in turn, based on seniority, to a man they pissed themselves and cried for their mothers like petrified schoolboys. The top man, the parrain, was saved for last. Fruitlessly, he struggled against his bonds as he was lifted into place on the bench, face up, and his head was placed in the lunette. His arms were were fastened on his belly. His legs and torso were also secured to the wooden bench. With the previous four, only seconds elapsed before the blade was released and each man was decapitated. But L’Enfant had ordered that the parrain be allowed to live for a seemingly endless period of minutes as the lead executioner whispered into his ears words that L’Enfant had written himself. Of course, L’Enfant was no where near the abandoned warehouse. But the scene had been recorded. Finally, the blade whooshed earthward through the wooden vertical guides toward its victim. The parrain let out a bone-chilling scream as the blade connected with the tissue of his neck. After a fleshy, split-second thunk and the snap of the spine, the scream was cut short and the severed head thunked into the collection basket like a discarded coconut. The bodies had been hung by the feet from poles side by side like fresh catches of tuna in the wee hours of the morning and the basket of heads left on the sidewalk. When dawn broke through a misty gray haze, Parisians were horrified by the ghastly sight. The assassins had hung a hand made sign warning all not to incur the wrath of Le Milieu.
L’Enfant knew that if he accepted Linguale’s offer, he would make money. A lot of it. But he also knew that in a few years, inevitably, he and Linguale’s organization’s in America would clash. Now they were simply businessmen in the same field who toiled in different markets. Their paths rarely crossed. It was the unspoken code. They were of different backgrounds, lived in different countries. They peddled their drugs, dispensed their whores and ran their bookies. And they left each other alone. The American offer would place them side by side. And the proximity would eventually pit him against this annoyingly verbose but lethally ruthless Italian. L’Enfant was not afraid of the fight, he just knew it lay in his future. His greed and lust for power could not be ignored. He would deal with Linguale much later. L’Enfant made a decision.
“Giuseppe, I will bring thirty men.” L’Enfant knew that Linguale’s declaration that he would take the southern part of the region was calculated to the Italian’s benefit. Just to keep the Roman off balance and show him he would not be subordinate to someone else’s orders, L’Enfant threw him a curveball. “But,” he demanded. “I will take the southern region. You,” he pointed a thin finger at Linguale’s nose, “will take the northern region. My team will be ready in one week.”
With that simple, definitive declaration, the Frenchman stood and motioned to his bodyguard. He was down the stairs with his minion in tow and out the door before Linguale could object. And L’Enfant left him to pay the bill.
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