Read The Four Corners of Palermo Online

Authors: Giuseppe Di Piazza

The Four Corners of Palermo

Copyright © 2012 Bompiani / RCS Libri S.p.A.
Originally published in Italian as
I quattro canti di Palermo
by Bompiani/RCS Libri S.p.A. in Milan, Italy, in 2012.

English translation copyright © 2014 by Antony Shugaar

Production Editor: Yvonne E. Cárdenas
Text Designer: Julie Fry

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from Other Press LLC, except in the case of brief quotations in reviews for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast. For information write to Other Press LLC, 2 Park Avenue, 24th Floor, New York, NY 10016. Or visit our Web site:

The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
Di Piazza, Giuseppe, author.
    [Quattro Canti Di Palermo. English]
    The Four Corners of Palermo / Giuseppe Di Piazza; translated by Antony Shugaar.
          pages cm
    ISBN 978-1-59051-665-2 (paperback) — ISBN 978-1-59051-666-9 (e-book)   1. Criminals—Italy—Fiction. 2. Mafia—Italy—Fiction. 3. Palermo (Italy)—Fiction.   I. Shugaar, Antony, translator.   II. Title.
    PQ4904.I21666Q3813 2014

Publisher’s Note:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


To Roberta, Luigi, Carlo, and Giorgio

I shall relate it now, with the accidents of time and place that brought about its revelation.


What is not in the open street is false, derived, that is to say, literature.


A Western

The first time I heard his name I assumed it must have been a misprint, one of those typos that officials in the city registry are liable to commit now and then, thoughtlessly meddling with the fate of human beings. Such as Condoleezza Rice, whose father, an opera lover, had intended to call her Condolcezza Rice. An “e” instead of a “c.” A detail that deprived that little girl of
—sweetness, gentleness—and instead condemned hundreds of thousands of people to brutal deaths fifty years later

His case was quite different: he was named Marinello on purpose. A lovely name really, playful, indulgent, a name that might look like a mistake, given it’s so often a woman’s name. But it was actually chosen quite intentionally, by a father who dreamed of an unconventional future for his baby, a child with curly dark hair and eyes as black as pitch

The father got his wish

As Marinello grew up, he became an armed robber, but not a professional killer like all his cousins, his uncles, and his brothers-in-law. It was a decision he’d made for himself: “I’m not going to kill.” A decision that changed the lives of several people in that long-ago summer of 1982, some of whom survived, while others did not


The policeman had just come off his night shift. He worked in the squad car division, but he actually was a member of a secret team, called the Squadra Catturandi. Mafioso hunters. Our relationship was somewhere on the border between acquaintance and friendship. It wouldn’t take much to push it back onto the neutral terrain of mere acquaintance, or to release it into flight in the skies of true friendship. He’d called and asked me to meet him at the café across from police headquarters. His name was Salvo; he was twenty-three, the same age as me. Too young to be talking about death, autopsies, and torture. And yet.

“Do you know the Spataro family?”

The winningest family of all the victors in that bloody year of 1982. A venerable old-school Mafia clan that had been quick on its feet, rapidly establishing an alliance with the ferocious newcomers from Corleone. The Spataros, a dynasty that was to Cosa Nostra what the Tudors were to the English throne.

“Tell me all about it, Salvo: What have they done now?”

“We hear there’s been a shoot-out within the family.”

That wasn’t possible; the rules were simple and they always applied: Winners kill losers. Rarely did a loser kill a winner. But it was out of the question for people to shoot each other if they were on the same side, within the same

For us reporters working the organized-crime beat, this was gospel, this was the Ten Commandments, this was an underlying principle of everything we knew about the Mafia in the early 1980s.

“Come on, you’re pulling my leg.”

“No, we found the shells. On Piazza Scaffa, a firefight from hell. One on one. And a
told us that it was Spataro against Spataro.”

was Palermitan dialect for sources, informers, literally “moldy ones,” Mafiosi who had “gone bad” or, depending on your point of view, “gone good.”

“Why do you think they were shooting at each other?”

“We don’t know.”

“Did you find dead bodies, blood?”

“Faint marks, someone must have been hit. But not much blood.”

When I went back to the newspaper, I knew one thing for sure: I was completely confused. I talked it over with the news editor. He told me to look into it, find out what the investigating magistrates had to say. I started doing my legwork, the digging that was destined, as usual in Palermo during the gang wars, to turn up absolutely nothing.

Rosalba was caressing Marinello’s forehead.

“Blood of my blood,” she said, pressing her lips against his golden skin.

He smiled tenderly at her. That girl was the one good thing, the first good thing in his life, the future in his own two hands, a sprig of hope for a change.

“Rosalba, we’re going to get out of here together. We’re going to have children, and we’ll do it in a place where no one speaks Sicilian.”

Then he grimaced.

He was stretched out on a bed in a damp cellar in the outskirts of Palermo. All around them were apartment buildings constructed in violation of the building code, seedy in the morning light, scant surviving patches of orange groves, junked cars. He touched his right leg.

“Totuccio, that son of a

The bullet had hit him in the thigh, one hole where it went in, another where it came out. Given the size of the wound, the gun must have been a .38. Rosalba got a handkerchief and soaked it in water. Wringing it out over his face, she sprinkled cool drops onto his burning cheeks, taut with pain.

“Marinello, if you want, we can call my father. He knows a doctor.”

“Forget about it, we’ll wait for the Professore. He’ll bring the shots.”

The girl had dressed the wound, disinfecting it with a pint of denatured alcohol and bandaging it with a couple of rags. The rags were soaked in blood: a .38 is a .38.

“Still, I’m pretty sure I must have hit him, too.”

“Don’t think about it now, my love. We have to get out of here.”

“First I want to kill him. Totuccio is just too
, too dark, too evil: my uncle is using him as an exterminator. But now I’m going to exterminate him.”

He grimaced again. Rosalba embraced him, felt his feverish midsection, the tremor of racing adrenaline. She lay
down next to her man and closed her eyes. Her thoughts fluttered away in freedom, as if in self-defense. Before her mind’s eye appeared the Castiglioni-Mariotti Latin dictionary: she had no idea why the giant definite article “
” was all uppercase and she couldn’t remember what
meant. Then she tried to remember the ablative case of
Marinello had fallen asleep. His heartbeat seemed to caress her.

Rosalba Corona had just turned eighteen, and in two months she’d be taking her high school finals. That morning, in the cellar next to her wounded lover, she was facing her first test. The most important one of all. And she knew she hadn’t studied hard enough.

She’d met him in a bar at Addaura, the previous summer. She was just a kid, a high school student from the Liceo Garibaldi, the school for Palermo’s well-to-do; her straight black hair was pulled back in a ponytail like Ali MacGraw’s in that film where everyone in the theater is sobbing at the end. Eyes that made you think of a couple of thousand years of history, Phoenician eyes, elongated, dark, eyelashes black with a natural mascara. She was tall and slender, with sharp young breasts that defied any attempt to conceal them. Her breasts had something to say, and she was doing nothing to keep them from talking.

“My name is Rosalba Corona; I’m seventeen years old. I want to be a teacher,” she’d told the young man with dark curly hair and a complexion the color of chestnut honey. He reminded her of Tony Musante, an actor who had been a legend to her mother, only he was taller than Musante.

“I want to teach Italian literature. I like spending time with children.”

He’d walked up to the counter and ordered a rum and
Coke. She was already standing there, with her girlfriend Annina, a classmate who was blonde and slightly overweight. Annina’s family had a house on the slopes of Monte Pellegrino, just two hundred yards away from that bar overlooking the surf. Both girls were drinking Fantas.

“The two of you, no alcohol, right? You’re too
, just little kids …” Marinello ventured.

Annina shot him a disgusted look, like a cat presented with a brand of cat food it can’t stand.

But Rosalba smiled.

“No, it’s just that we prefer Fanta,” she lied.

Marinello, deep inside, celebrated this encounter. He arched his spine, feeling the handle of the Beretta .32 touch the muscles in the small of his back. He kept the gun tucked into his belt behind his back, the way undercover policemen do, and he didn’t want the two girls to notice.

“No, you really ought to try it: rum. It’s sweet, and it makes you grow up right away.”

Annina stepped away from the bar with a vague excuse, gesturing toward nothing and noplace in particular, where an alleged “Gaspare” ought to be: she called his name.

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