- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
“Carlotto is the reigning king of Mediterranean noir.” —The Boston Phoenix
“The best living Italian crime writer.” — Il Manifesto
At the End of a Dull Day
At the end of a dull day, the lawyer and, incidentally, parliamentarian of the Italian republic, Sante Brianese strode with his customary briskness into La Nena. A moment later his secretary and his personal assistant appeared in the doorway. Ylenia and Nicola. Good-looking, well dressed, young, and cheerful. They looked like something straight out of an American TV show.
It was aperitif time in the establishment, and there was a steady flow of customers, drinks, and hors d'oeuvres. Outside on the patio, mushroom-shaped heat lamps kept the tightly packed crowd of smokers warm. I knew almost everybody there. I'd cultivated my clientele over the years with painstaking diligence. There were no cocaine, whores, or dickheads in my bar, and I had a guy on salary who had flied his brains on steroids but who still could be relied upon to stand discreetly outside the door and keep away vendors peddling flowers, cigarette lighters, and bric-a-brac of all kinds. You could only get into La Nena if you were looking to pay reasonable prices in exchange for a peaceful, refined, and yet "bubbly and amusing" atmosphere. Mornings, from 8 to 10, we served fine teas, fragrant croissants, and cappuccinos made with milk shipped directly to us from a small mountain village in the Dolomites. At noon sharp, the aperitif hour began. From 12:30 to 3 o'clock, we served lunch: a light, high-energy meal for officeworkers and busy professionals, a minimalist vegetarian repast for the overweight on perennial diets, or else a lavish banquet, in the strictest Venetian tradition, for salesmen and clients not worried about their weight. The evening aperitif began at 6:45 and dinner was served from 7:30 on. For ordinary mortals, the kitchen shut down at 10:30. For people like Brianese the restaurant was always open.
The Counselor took a seat at his usual table and his favorite waitress hurried over with the usual glass of fine prosecco that I'd been serving him free of charge for the past eleven years. Then, as usual, the customers lined up to pay their customary respects to their elected representative. Not all of the customers. There was a time when the ritual would have included every single customer in my establishment, but in the upcoming regional elections his party was facing a serious challenge from the Padanos, as they were affectionately dubbed even by their allies. More than a few of my clients were discreetly announcing their shift in allegiance to new masters. Brianese, with the usual smile stamped on his face, accepted the avowals of loyalty and kept a mental checklist of the defectors. Toward the end, it was my turn. I poured myself a glass of prosecco, walked around from behind the bar, and took a seat by his side.
"Things still tough down in Rome?" I asked.
He shrugged. "No worse than usual. The real challenges are up here now," he replied, watching his aides mix with the crowd. With a toolkit of wisecracks and gossip they were doing their best to herd the stragglers back into the fold. They knew their job and they were good at it, but victory was by no means assured. Only on election day would it be possible to reckon the exact percentage of the defeat and the collateral damage in terms of business. Then he turned to look me right in the eye and said: "We need to talk."
"Name a time, Counselor."
"Not now, I'm expecting guests. There'll be four of us, and we'll need the back room."
It was the most exclusive part of La Nena, entirely at the service of Brianese and the business consortiums and cabals that he controlled. I jutted my chin in Ylenia and Nicola's direction. Brianese shook his head. "No, they'll be going home. I have an appointment with three developers."
"Should I tell Nicoletta to come?"
"I feel sure that the gentlemen would appreciate the gesture."
I circled back behind the bar and pulled open a drawer. In it was the cell phone that I use only when I'm calling her.
Nicoletta Rizzardi was an old friend. She was one of the first people I met when I first moved to the Veneto. We'd even been lovers, for a short while. A tall, slender drink of water with a nice big pair of milky white boobs. She'd been divorced for years and was a die-hard smoker. She loved flashy expensive scarves which she wore constantly and with considerable flair. She had worked in the sector of high-end fashion—strictly counterfeits. Then came the wave of competition in that field from African immigrant street vendors, selling the same articles as she was but at half the price. She was forced to move into a new field and settle for a position repping mid-market intimate apparel. Her income dropped accordingly and she'd been scraping by until I approached her with a proposal to go into business with me in a certain endeavor that quickly proved to be a brilliant opportunity and a steady source of income for both of us.
One night when I was talking with Brianese I'd had the brainstorm. The Counselor was complaining about the fact that in this country public figures no longer enjoyed freedom or any right to privacy. Gossip had become the Italian national sport and no politician could afford the risk anymore of having a little fun on the side because of the danger of winding up as fodder for the press. An innocent dalliance could easily turn into the epitaph of a career. Maybe not in Lombardy or Rome, where members of parliament caught dabbling in extramarital sex or snorting lines of cocaine were exonerated by their fellow politicos as "victims of the pressure cooker life they led, unwillingly separated from their families." Here in the Veneto, however, there was just one simple rule: "Do whatever you want, but don't get caught or it's curtains." The real problem came with the call girls themselves. They had become an integral part of the way business was conducted but they constantly proved to be deeply unreliable. These days no one dreamed of obtaining a contract of any size, even for a miserable traffic circle, without kicking in a percentage in kind. Corruption had evolved and those who were willing to settle for cash payments were considered two-bit operators. Now even wives and offspring were eager to grab a little something for themselves when possible: new wallpaper for the house or a Japanese sports car. Everybody seemed to want an extra piece of baksheesh, a gift to console themselves over the fact that they'd become corrupt. But the call girls had become ground zero for investigating magistrates and investigative journalists, and they were such birdbrains that they seemed incapable of keeping their mouths shut. No matter how bad things got, the call girls were always willing to appear on a talk show to make matters worse.
Brianese was right, several times over. I'd worked for a while in a lap dance club and I know a thing or two about the mindset you find in girls who are willing to accept that transaction.
So I took advantage of my experience and put together a small but extremely reliable network of prostitutes under the guise of an escort service. I went to work for Brianese and his friends.
Never more than four girls at a time, exclusively foreigners who knew nobody and were completely ignorant about the city, and we replaced them after exactly six months. Venezuelans, Argentines, and Brazilians with European features, preferably of Italian descent, the offspring of emigrants. And always one Chinese girl for that exotic touch.
The hard part about the Chinese girl was finding one who was even halfway presentable. I had a contact in Prato but he had nothing to show me but girls they were sending to work out of apartments. The problem was this: the Chinese girls assigned as sex workers were precisely those who couldn't keep pace with production in the sweatshops, the ones who could no longer earn their keep. In other words, all I had to choose from was an array of twenty-two-year-old girls with chapped, callused hands who were so beaten down it would have taken a couple of months of rest and relaxation to get them into any kind of shape to spread their legs with at least a hint of a smile on their lips. I always found myself struggling to imagine them nicely made-up, their hair done properly by a professional hairdresser, and decently dressed. In other words, it was a thankless task, but these days you couldn't hope to operate a first-class escort service without at least one Chinese girl. They helped to put the most demanding clients at their ease and they were perfect for clients who had a hard time expressing their desires. Nicoletta described the Chinese girls as "the dolls that Italian males grew up wishing they could play with." That was true only in part. Actually, they were just sex slaves with long practice at satisfying their masters' wishes. Now, my South American girls I got from Mikhail, a Russian in his forties who was as big, strong, and cunning as the Devil himself. Mikhail worked as a gofer and fixer for a prostitution ring run by two former hookers from Naples, in cahoots with one of the most powerful cops in town, who offered them protection. Mikhail let me pick my girls out of a catalogue and, when he was planning the international arrivals, he would just add mine to the list and keep the money for himself. Mikhail warned me against Russian prostitutes. He could of course get me all the Russian girls I wanted. In his homeland prostitution was a thriving institution, completely out of control. Leaving professional prostitutes aside, there was an army of Russian women of all ages willing to trade sexual favors for minor privileges, especially in the workplace. But once they were incorporated into my network, they'd start looking around for clients of their own and become rivals or else they'd find a man willing to keep them.
"Stick to South American girls," he'd told me. "They're less work. As I'm sure you know, the most important thing about whores is to pick them carefully because they can be a tremendous pain in the ass."
I liked the Russian guy; he was cautious and fair-minded. We regularly met in a large highway service plaza not far outside of Bologna. Lots of people coming and going at all hours. I'd park in an area that wasn't monitored by closed-circuit cameras, he'd slip into the car with his laptop under his arm, and he'd start an extended monologue about his name. I'd always assumed it wasn't his real name.
He claimed his full name was Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov, like the Russian author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1965.
"Why would the Swedes give the prize to a Communist?" he'd ask me each time with exaggerated indignation. "I can understand a dissident, but what's the idea of giving the award to a man who was named a Hero of the Soviet Union not once but twice?"
"No one even remembers his name," I replied.
"It's a good thing. I'd be embarrassed if anyone ever noticed that I have the same name as that guy. You know that I went into a bookshop once and asked for his best-known book, And Quiet Flows the Don?"
"It must be out of print," I said, starting to sound like a broken record.
"Which is lucky, too. Do you think they'll reprint it?"
"No way. Who cares about a writer from the Soviet era? Now Putin's in charge, and he happens to be a close friend of our current prime minister."
"Who ought to learn from Putin how to eliminate the danger of scandals," he shot back. "'Eliminate' ... I don't know if you catch the pun ..."
He laughed long and loud. At last, he turned on his laptop so he could show me the catalogue.
"All right, now let's talk about women and money, the only two good things about our lives."
I always played along. I knew Mikhail put on that routine so he'd have time to see if there were any detectives lurking in the shadows.
On his laptop, there were nude photographs of each girl in six different poses, so that their best and worst features were clearly evident. The ones who came to work for us were lucky. We sent them to live in comfortable spacious homes, where Nicoletta took personal charge of them. She taught them everything they needed to know about clothing, makeup, perfume, and etiquette. When they weren't busy with paying clients, Nicoletta gave them work modeling her line of intimate apparel, which served as excellent cover. It was also a good way to make them feel special and to ward off the boredom that could quickly turn into depression. Depression could fill their heads with ideas that were bad for business. To date, in fact, none of the girls had caused trouble and I had never had cause to use my fists on any of them. When my partner and I welcomed each new group we made sure that they couldn't miss a shiny pair of brass knuckles apparently left out in plain view on a coffee table—by accident. Even rank beginners knew that brass knuckles were a whore's worst enemy.
Our girls weren't cheap. Whether it was for five minutes or the whole night, the price never changed: two hundred fifty euros; out of that fee, two hundred euros, no less, went directly into the girl's pockets. Despite the high price, none of our customers had ever complained. They were happy to pay extra for a guarantee of discretion. Anyway the money never came out of the customer's wallet. It was always part of the cost of doing business.
The security rules were ironclad. No drugs, just champagne. Cell phones to be left in the car so that some imbecile couldn't take pictures or compromising videos. The encounters took place in various detached villas, scattered throughout the various provinces and rented for short periods through a real estate agency where Nicoletta's brother worked. Only rarely in hotels. When the girls weren't busy entertaining politicians and friends of politicians, they were made available to prosperous foreign industrialists. The company rule was this: only one client a day, but seven days a week.
The girls fooled themselves into bdieving they'd become princesses until the morning I loaded them into my car, pretending I was taking them to an orgy outside of town and, once I got them to Genoa, selling them to a group of Maltese gangsters for twice what I'd paid for them. I never asked what would happen to them. All I knew was that a few hours later they were already on board a freighter heading for the Maghreb region of northwest Africa or to Spain. That was all that mattered to me.
The minute the girls got out of the car and found themselves surrounded by those ugly mugs in the filthy warehouse that served as the gang's headquarters, they immediately understood the cruel trap they'd been lured into and they began to weep and wail. It was a heartbreaking spectacle, but it only amused the buyers. They laughed heartily as they reached out rough, dirty hands to grab and grope, savoring the impending rape. For that matter, they were old-school gangsters, firmly convinced that if a whore got a taste of hell, then she'd mistake the clients for heavenly angels. At that juncture, I'd point out that they were taking delivery of delicate, valuable merchandise, count my money in a hurry, and hop in my car and head home.
Every time, the Maltese gangsters asked me to point out the finest of the group, the one that they assumed had spent the most time in my bed. I'd point to one at random, because the last thing I would dream of doing was fuck any of them. After all, I was the boss, and picking one in particular would have just created bad group dynamics. I didn't want any of them getting it into her head that she was my favorite. But because when all was said and done I was the boss, even though we were theoretically equal partners, every month, after splitting the take, I demanded that Nicoletta give me a first-class blowjob. It was a good way of reminding her whose idea it had been. After all, it was a profitable little operation. At year's end, after expenses, I pocketed about a hundred thousand euros, but I was forced to plow about half of that sum back into the restaurant. Ea Nena had turned into a money pit. The economic downturn was having its effect, even though the Veneto was doing better than many other parts of the country. It was damned expensive to keep up certain standards of quality. My biggest expense was staff. To say nothing of the wine cellar. It wasn't like the good old days. Now even people who could afford the finest still avoided the more expensive bottles. Only when bribers and bribees were drinking to the success of a negotiation was price truly no object. And they were demanding. Especially the ones who had never been able to get a seat at the main table to shovel forkfuls of the angel food cake of corruption into their gaping maws: they always seemed to know all about the latest fashions in wine. I made sure I always had plenty of the latest thing in stock.
Nothing on earth could have convinced me to give up La Nena. It was solid proof that my life had changed for good, a calling card that gave me a respected status in society. In the year 2000, thanks to Brianese and his hefty fee, I obtained legal rehabilitation. My personal history as a former terrorist sentenced to life imprisonment without parole was expunged from my record. At the end of a long and twisted series of events, during which I'd worked like a mule, I had become an upright citizen and the proprietor of a fashionable establishment in the heart of a city in the Venetian provinces. I voted in elections and I paid my taxes. And with a series of smiles, ass-lickings, and lots of hard work, I won acceptance. I was now "one of them." And not just any one of them. I was a winner. One of the people you couldn't pretend you hadn't seen or forget to say hello to.
Excerpted from AT THE END OF A DULL DAY by Massimo Carlotto, Antony Shugaar. Copyright © 2011 Edizioni e/o. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Chapter One At the End of a Dull Day.................... 15
Chapter Two King of Hearts.................... 75
Chapter Three Renegade.................... 91
Chapter Four Ylenia.................... 125
Chapter Five C'est lundi.................... 135
Chapter Six Ombretta.................... 153
Chapter Seven Man at Work.................... 163
About the Author.................... 185
Posted July 23, 2013
Posted July 23, 2013
Rainbow Dash rolled over in her bed, her eyes still closed. As she opened them, she said, "Today is going to be a ni- what the hay?!" She looked around her room, an appauled expression on her face. Her walls were no longer their pretty sky blue, but a dreary light grey. She flew out of her bed and around her house. Everything was either grey, white, or black. "Looks like I'm trapped in an old 1960s photo in the newspaper!" Dash mumbled, then chuckled at her own joke. She looked at herself in a mirror. "That's weird," she commented to nopony in particular. "Everything's old newspaper central but me! Maybe Twilight knows what's going on." She flew quickly out of her house. She zoomed over to Twilight's, noticing that everything, even the ponies, looked like it had come out of an old '60s photo. She landed at Twilight's front door and knocked. Twilight opened it, looking like she'd just woken up. Rainbow giggled. "Hey Rainbow Dash," Twilight greeted her. "I suppose you're wondering why Ponyville is like this. Honestly I have no clue." "We should gather the others and do a search through the books in your library," Dash suggested. "Good idea," Twilight answered. "You go find Rarity and Applejack, and I'll look for Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy." "On it," Rainbow said, and the two ponies split apart, Twilight searching from below, while Rainbow searched from overhead. She scanned the ground carefully, and finally caught a glimps of Rarity admiring something in a boutique window. Dash zoomed down to her and almost scared the living daylights out of her. "Jeesh Rainbow Dash you really need to call out before you creep up on someone like that!" "Then what would be the point of creeping up on someone?" Dash asked pointedly. "Anyways, we need to find Applejack and then scoot over to Twilight's." "I saw Applejack earlier talking with Fluttershy at Sweet Apple Acres on my way to the boutique," Rarity informed her. "Sweet! Ok let's go fetch her," Rainbow replied, and the two ponies set off for Sweet Apple Acres. "What are you guys doin' here?" Applejack asked as the two approached. "We need to investigate in on this unearthy mystery in the library," Rainbow answered. "Count me in," Applejack said. "This dreary grey color is makin' me really depressed." Everypony galloped to Twilight's library. Twilight had successfully found the other two. "Ok, let's get to work!" Twilight announced. Everypony went into full search mode. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy searched the higher shelves. Everypony was grabbing random books off of the shelves and leafing through them. The number of books they'd searched through was adding up quickly. Finally, Pinkie Pie shouted, "I've found it! I've found it!"Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 18, 2013
No text was provided for this review.