Authors: Sandrone Dazieri
In a Heartbeat
translated by A. Turner Mojica
All rights reserved: no part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying
or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
First published in Great Britain in 2012
by Hersilia Press, Oxfordshire
© Copyright 2008 Arnoldo Mondadori editore
Translated by A. Turner Mojica
This edition published by arrangement with Grandi & Associati
English Translation © 2012 Sandrone Dazieri
The right of Sandrone Dazieri to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted.
ISBN 978-0-9563796-6-5 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-9563796-9-6 (eBook)
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.
It was the cold that brought me back. I felt it slip along my spine and along the contours of my nerves and muscles. I was stretched out, spread-eagled on a cold, hard surface with my eyes closed.
What the hell
Max screwed me over. Son of a bitch,
I thought. Max was my business partner, a good-looking guy who vaguely resembled Rod Stewart with brown hair that he kept tied back in a ponytail. I met him one night outside Oreste’s bar, a dive where you took your life in your own hands if you went inside. I rarely went in; I just stayed outside and sold my dope. My name’s Santo. My line of work earned me the street name ‘Trafficante,’ just like ‘Santo Trafficante,’ one of the mobsters from the Kennedy conspiracy theories. It was better than Denti, my real surname, which means ‘teeth’ in Italian and sounds like something you’ve seen on an information card above some church relic.
Max did what I did, but he had no style. He broke off pieces of hash with his teeth and accepted payment in loose change. You’d often see him totally wasted late at night slouched on the pavement staring at the sky and, on more than one occasion, you’d see Oreste sweeping him out along with the rest of the rubbish. I always saw him around, in the park, at concerts, but I never said a word to him. I just glared at him when he got within a hundred yards of me. Milan is big, and yet everywhere I turned I always saw this guy. Get your hustle on elsewhere, you loser.
During the fine spring of ’88, nothing else was happening and we ended up cackling like old hens finding out that we had a lot in common. We were from the same brood: chronically poverty-stricken dealers with an acute case of ‘I just don’t give a damn.’
We were talking away, so I opened up and told him about this idea of mine. I wasn’t bragging or anything, but Trafficante was the top dog in Milan. Students would fight to get me to their digs, hoping for a free smoke or a free line. The first round was always on me, and then I proceeded to clean them out soon after. I walked around those fabulous mansions drooling over all the amazing stuff that I saw. Those bastards. All this wealth around them like it was nothing.
Yeah, daddy gave me this gold watch, of course the painting is expensive and we’ve actually had it insured for a mountain of cash.
Did they deserve to keep all this? No way! While everyone smooched, I passed the time making floor plans, studying windows and house alarms. It would have been so easy, but for some reason I always chickened out. I couldn’t possibly shit where I ate; I had a secure income, and it wasn’t good for business to screw over the clientele.
I didn’t want to burn any bridges but Max convinced me of the opposite. According to him it was the best idea of the century, far better than miniskirts and high heels. Besides, he also knew how to fence the merchandise. Max was a bit older than me and hard-core. In the seventies he was part of an ultra-hard political collective. He was one of the bulls on parade you’d see with a Molotov cocktail in hand, laying siege to the police barracks. Most of his playground friends wound up in jail and those still on the loose brought fear and trepidation with them. A couple of them moved all kinds of property and would’ve been happy to acquire the fruits of our labour at a fair price.
‘Are you serious?’ I asked him after the last call at Oreste’s.
Operation Student went into action the following week. In the middle of the night Max and I slithered down the stairway of a mansion in the posh centre of town with the owner’s spare key, skilfully removed by yours truly during a recent toga party. I was damn scared. I was half-expecting Starsky and Hutch to jump out any moment with a cannon and cuffs. Instead, it all went smoothly. We came out in under a half-hour loaded like Santa Claus. So, we obviously continued the covert operations. Two or three jobs a month for about a year, in and out, fast and stealthy. Then someone finally got the hint of something. You didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to realise that all the cleaned-out houses had had the honour of a visit from Santo Trafficante in the weeks before the event. Some people began to look at me suspiciously, and invites were now mysteriously few and far between.
But Max and I had a Plan B.
We decided we would go back to dealing but big time, reinvesting the capital that we had put aside from the robberies. Our supplier was a guy named Alfredo, an ex-militant. He always answered the door in his dressing gown with a Celtic cross dangling across his hairy chest. His house was like a carnival, filled with strobe lights and vintage pinball machines that he would never let you touch.
Our clients, however, came from Max’s circles, leftists and sympathisers. We didn’t deal in the streets anymore, and we only took orders over 100 grams for hash and ten grams for blow. Max had the contacts and I delivered the merchandise. Everything ran smoothly. I soon had a drawer filled with wads of money that I kept hidden in the basement. No way I was going to deal for the rest of my life. Sooner or later I would go straight, buy a bar, and hire someone willing to break his own back for me. I’d just stop by once a week, to check the accounts and collect the money. If it weren’t for Max, maybe I would’ve pulled it off.
I knew that Max shot up, but I didn’t care as long as he was clear-headed and it didn’t mess with the business. Now he was getting wasted more and more often, which began to create problems at work. You tend to get a bad reputation when your partner shaves the merchandise and cuts it beyond any level of decency, blows off meetings, and disappears for days. If that wasn’t enough, I was sure that he was lining his pockets with what should’ve been my cut. Needless to say, our partnership ended when I turned his house inside out looking for what I thought he had stolen from me. I didn’t find anything, by the way.
Different roads, different destinies. I continued to do what I did while Max embarked on that sad path that generally leads to winding up as a corpse in a ditch, a warning to the losers of the world.
It went a bit better than that. They found him in Parco Ravizza with a broken jaw and his legs smashed by a baseball bat. I thought maybe Alfredo had done it; Max had accrued a series of debts with him. In better times, when I’d thought he could still be saved, I paid a few of them off, but I had my own life now; money doesn’t grow on trees. Max was out of circulation for about six months after that, and then one night in August he dropped in on me with a bottle of whisky.
It wasn’t a pretty sight. His bones were healed but his jaw was crooked and he was missing half his teeth. He was so low that I offered him a line of credit to bring him back up. Then he started to blab about a big job.
‘Twenty kilos of Colombian, three thousand a gram. If that doesn’t convince you, then you’re not the Santo Trafficante I knew.’ He said it like he was doing me a favour.
At that price he would have had to have contacts with the Medellìn gang, and Max walked with a limp thanks to his past suppliers. No way he was suddenly hanging out with the heavyweights.
I ran out of rolling papers so was preparing a joint using an empty cigarette. ‘Hey man, where the hell did this smoke come from?’ he asked.
He started saying,
I can’t give you all the details.
Then he told me some story about a guy who travelled the world in a sailboat and who got lucky in Africa but now was in desperate need of cash. It was the kind of thing that would make you laugh in his face. I laughed in his face.
He insisted, begged in the name of our old friendship, then sagged in his chair. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll find someone else.’
‘Hey, the world is full of suckers,’ I said.
He raised the bottle of whisky. ‘Here’s to your health.’
‘While it lasts,’ I said while I bent over to snort a line. That was when he hit me over the head with the bottle.
I was on the floor and sure of two things: one, I knew I wasn’t dead, and two, I knew that all my hard-earned savings were gone.
Strangely enough, I didn’t feel all that bad, I just felt unbearably cold. I’ve read what happens when you lose too much blood, and I wondered if my head was split open like a melon.
Maybe the neighbours found me and now I’m in a hospital bed. When I open my eyes, maybe I’ll see a doctor or a cop.
There was silence all around me; I could only hear my own breathing and the beat of my heart. I smelled burnt plastic and something like cheap cologne.
I opened my eyes. No hospital, no house. I was lying on my back on a marble floor staring at a milky white ceiling.
I thought. With some effort I turned my head. That still didn’t hurt even though I remembered the sound of bottle against bone. I was in a men’s toilet, a big, luxurious one, not like the dump at Oreste’s. On the wall to my left there was a series of marble washbasins. Further down were the cubicles. The other wall was bare except for a light switch that had probably shorted; a wisp of black smoke rose from the switch to the ceiling. That’s where the smell came from.
I gathered my thoughts. I didn’t recognise this place, but someone had brought me here. Max? Highly improbable. I raised my arm and checked it for injuries and then stopped in mid-air.
My arm was different. At home I had been wearing a T-shirt; now I was in long sleeves. I pushed down with my heels and was able to sit up and lean with my back against the wall and look at myself. Even the jeans and Dr. Martens were gone, replaced by a black dinner jacket, white shirt, slacks and black Oxford shoes. I was also wearing a black tie like John Belushi in
The Blues Brothers
. Was I dreaming? I thought not; I was lucid, considering the situation. I grabbed the edge of the nearest basin, trying to pull myself up and get to my feet, but I miscalculated and lost my footing; I fell and yelled in frustration. I had to close my eyes again because the room began to spin.
When I reopened them a man was bent over me. I yelled again in surprise and he jumped back. He was in his late sixties, bald, in white tie and tails. A black medallion hung from a chain over his white starched shirt.
‘You almost gave me a heart attack,’ I wheezed.
‘Are you feeling unwell, sir?’ he said.
‘Yeah, I … ’ I was completely disoriented. The men’s toilet, these clothes, and this geezer dressed like a penguin. I couldn’t quite join the dots. Judging by his expression he was just as baffled as I was.
‘Don’t move,’ he said. ‘I’m going to find a doctor.’
Doctor, police charges, cops. Whatever the hell had happened I didn’t want them near me.
‘But … ’
‘C’mon, old man, don’t be a pain, just help me up.’
The guy took my arm, got me up, and stood there staring at me.
‘Is there a problem? Is my face dirty?’ I asked.
‘No, but sir, they’re going to start now.’
I stopped myself before asking,
I played along with him. ‘Oh, OK, then.’