Read The Silence of the Wave Online

Authors: Gianrico Carofiglio

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #International Mystery & Crime, #Thrillers, #Suspense

The Silence of the Wave (5 page)

“If I’ve understood correctly—and I’m almost never wrong about people—you could assist me in this operation. It’ll mean speaking Spanish, it’ll mean—”

“Assist you?” Roberto interrupted him with a mocking smile and a hint of contempt in his eyes. “You mean I’d be your assistant?” He was enjoying playing this role.

The other man hastened to correct his blunder.

“No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean … I meant we could work together, as partners.”

“How do I know you’re not a cop and all this isn’t just a ploy to frame me?”

“A cop? Me? Ask people about me, here or anywhere in Milan, and you’ll see if I’m a cop. Ask about Mario Jaguar and hear what they say.”

“Mario Jaguar? Is that your nickname?” Another mocking smile.

The man’s forehead and upper lip were covered with sweat, maybe out of indignation. There are people who really get upset when other people call them cops.

“Well, Signor Mario Jaguar, if you’re so reliable you won’t mind coming to the toilets with me and letting me search you, will you? After that, we can maybe talk business.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” There was a shrill note in his voice now.

“Well, you don’t carry a certificate saying: ‘I’m not a cop.’ So before continuing this conversation I want to make sure that if I talk to you, I’m really talking
only
to you.”

“What do you mean?”

“If you are a cop, you’re a good actor. If you’re not a cop maybe it’s best you don’t get involved in things that are bigger than you. Haven’t you ever heard about microphones, wires, things like that?”

“You’re mad.”

“OK. Good-bye, then. It’s best if you don’t go into business with a madman.”

So saying, Roberto got up from the table and made to leave.

“Hold on. Fuck it, you’re touchy. All right, let’s go to the fucking toilet and I’ll let you search me. Maybe then we can talk seriously.”

Roberto felt like laughing. It was an almost irresistible impulse, and he had to bite himself so hard to
stop it that he made the inside of his lower lip bleed. As he entered the toilet, he had what amounted to a premonition. What was happening would change his life forever. It only lasted a moment, but for many years Roberto would think of that moment as the real turning point in his story.

Obviously, Mario Jaguar wasn’t wearing any microphones or wires. What he did have was an absurdly bulging wallet, full of large-denomination bills. They went back to the table and Jaguar ordered another bottle. The DJ had put on
Heal the World
by Michael Jackson, and a few unlikely couples were dancing in each other’s arms.

“You know your job, don’t you?” Jaguar said. “You searched me like a professional.”

“Have you ever been searched before?”

“No, but—”

“Then how do you know how a professional searches?”

Jaguar’s glass stopped in midair.

“Fuck it, you’re no pushover, are you?”

Roberto looked at him without saying anything. Jaguar sustained his gaze for about ten seconds, then emptied his glass and filled it again. He lit a cigarette, took a drag, sniffed, and put the pack down on the table. Roberto took the pack and lit one for himself. He didn’t really want it, but at that moment it seemed the appropriate thing to do for the part he was playing.

“Sorry I didn’t offer you one. You didn’t look like a smoker. Anyway, now can I tell you why I’ve been looking for you?”

“All right, go on.”

He explained the reason. There were these Colombians he had been working with for some time, who brought him a dozen new girls every month. They were intended for regular customers who liked a change and had money to spend. He’d place the girls in a number of apartments in the city and work them around the clock for a few weeks. Then he’d send them off to other cities, either in Italy or elsewhere in Europe.

One day, one of the Colombians had suggested he come in on a cocaine deal.

“A major deal.”

“What do you call a major deal?” Roberto asked.

“There’s been this incredible increase in production in Colombia, and they’re looking for new customers. They could send shipments of fifty kilos at a time, for a really good price, just because they have so much and they want to sell it off.”

Roberto took a deep breath. Anyone looking at him might have thought he was weighing up the commercial possibilities of the information. In reality, the breath was a way to control his emotions. Shipments of fifty kilos? Nobody had ever seen quantities like that.

“It’s the kind of thing that can change your life, a deal like that. I have my guys, I deal a bit of cocaine, but
that’s just half a kilo every two or three weeks. I give it to the same customers as the whores, plus some to friends. I don’t know what to do in a situation like this.”

“What did you tell the Colombian?”

“I told him I was interested but I had to talk to the partner I deal drugs with.”

“But you don’t have a partner you deal drugs with.”

Jaguar smiled, assuming an expression of almost farcical cunning. He was clearly very pleased with himself.

“So you thought you’d talk to me and I could be your assistant.”

“Hey, I already apologized, I used the wrong word. We’d be partners. The deal’s fantastic. I have this contact and I have money to invest. You could manage things, go over there, meet these people, organize the shipment. Let’s get together and split everything down the middle.”

“You really don’t want to miss this opportunity, do you?”

Jaguar laughed.

“Of course I don’t. With quantities like that, we do a dozen shipments and then I can buy myself an island in the South Seas and I won’t have to work for the rest of my life. And you can do the same.”

Over the years Roberto would think about the bizarre, cruel situation Mario Jaguar had gotten himself in. Completely alone, doing everything on his own initiative. He had found the noose that would strangle him, and had stuck his head right through it, cheerfully
drinking second-rate champagne at three hundred thousand lire a bottle.

“Do you have any ID?”

“ID?”

“A driver’s license, an identity card, Mickey Mouse Club membership, whatever.”

“Why?”

“Because before doing business with someone, I like to know who he is. Give me your ID, I’ll make a note of your details, have them checked out by a few friends I have in the right places, and then we meet again here—let’s say in three days—and talk some more. If you’re straight, you have nothing to fear. If you aren’t, just don’t come back in three days. Of course, you could refuse to give me your ID, and in that case we’ve had a drink and a chat and we’re friends like before. In a manner of speaking.”

Jaguar sighed. Then he rose heavily from his chair, took his bulging wallet from his left-hand back pocket, and extracted a crumpled driver’s license.

“Will this do?”

Roberto took it without saying anything. He opened it and saw the photograph of a young man who wasn’t yet called Jaguar, didn’t yet traffic in whores and moneylending, and actually looked quite normal. The kind of person who’s going to university or looking for a job, who goes out with his girl for a pizza or to the movies, who plays football with his friends, who
gets his picture taken for his driver’s license in a photo booth. And then his life suddenly takes a turn, and he’s transformed into Mario Jaguar, pimp, moneylender, and aspiring (but unlucky) international drug trafficker.

Roberto called the waitress and asked for a pen. Actually he had one with him—he
always
had one with him—but he didn’t want to arouse even the slightest suspicion. Why should an international trafficker, a professional criminal, be carrying a pen? A pen is what a cop uses to write down what he sees so that he doesn’t forget it, but a criminal doesn’t usually need a pen. If he does need one, he borrows it.

After noting down on a paper napkin the particulars of Mario Binetti, known as Jaguar, Roberto gave him back the license.

“I’m going now. If everything’s OK, we’ll meet in three days, same time, same place. If things aren’t OK, it’s best for both of us if we don’t meet, either here or anywhere else.”

“We’ll meet and we’ll do business and thanks to me you’ll become rich. If you have any contacts in the police they’ll tell you who Mario Jaguar is. I give some of them a free turn with some of my girls every now and again and in return they let me work in peace.”

Roberto had to restrain himself from asking who these officers were. One thing at a time, he told himself, mentally mouthing the words. First the drugs, then, if possible, his corrupt colleagues.

He stood up and left. As he walked through the door of the club, he was thinking that what had happened to him was incredible, and that he should make an effort not to run, not while he could still be seen. Running wildly to work off your excitement isn’t the kind of behavior expected of a high-class criminal, an international trafficker. Which was what he was about to become and would remain for more than ten years.

* * *

The doctor looked at his watch.

“I confess even I’m having to make an effort to finish on time today.”

Roberto didn’t know where he was going with these stories. But he had the impression he had found a direction.

He left the building and, as he headed home, he noticed an old-style restaurant and pizzeria where he was sure he must have been more than once, some years earlier. Good pizza, really good thick fries.

It had definitely always been there, even in the past seven months.

6

Sometimes remembering and thinking are not beneficial activities.

The doctor had often told him that. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be trapped by our thoughts or memories. When they come, we have to look at them objectively and let them fade away.

Thoughts stay with us only if we hold on to them, he would say. By way of explanation, he had cited the example of a trap used in a particular region of India to catch certain types of monkeys. The way the trap works is simple but deadly. It’s a kind of pot with a narrow opening and food inside. The opening is just wide enough to allow the monkey to put his hand in, but stops him taking it out with his fist closed. So when the monkey grabs the food and then tries to get his hand out, he can’t. If he let go of the food, he’d be able to free himself, but as he won’t let go, he’s trapped.

A nice story, Roberto thought. Evocative and perfect.

In theory.

In practice, how do you let go of your thoughts when they’re planted in your head like nails, and the more you try and get them out the more they tear your soul?

But then, with time and thanks to the progress of his therapy, and also the medication, the suggestion had started to seem less impractical. For example, whenever he walked, concentrating on taking one step after another, he had the feeling those sticky lumps of suffering became less stubborn and for a few moments actually melted away, and his head became delightfully free. What the doctor had said would happen actually happened, and his thoughts, those solid entities made up of memories, recriminations, and decaying dreams, slipped away, even if only for a short while—long enough, though, for him to realize that it was possible.

When he got home, it occurred to him that in two months he would have to have a medical checkup. It was the first time he had thought about possibly going back to work.

The first time since a colleague had found him in the office, at night, with a gun in his mouth, wondering if you really didn’t feel any pain when you shot yourself in the head at such close range. Wondering if they would find him with shit in his trousers, like the murder victims he had seen, or if the instinctive, split-second fear of dying would kick in before the nine-millimeter
Parabellum bullet went right through his brain and smashed his skull.

He was very calm, very clearheaded, as he felt the taste of the burnished steel on his tongue and wondered what the scene of his suicide would look like.

He distinctly remembered the expression on the face of that young officer, the terrified expression of someone who would like to run out to find help but realizes that this might well be the wrong move. Definitely the wrong move.

“Please take that thing out and move it away.” He actually said
please
, which Roberto thought was interesting. Please don’t shoot yourself in the head. Apart from getting the office dirty, it would all be a complete mess: lawyers, journalists, inquiries.

Please take that thing out of your mouth. Please, I became a carabiniere because I wanted things to be straightforward, with the bad guys on one side and the good guys—us—on the other. Clear, straightforward, predictable.

There was no provision for finding a colleague in the office at two o’clock in the morning, ready to blow his brains out.

Roberto looked at him with genuine curiosity, feeling an unreal sense of calm and control. The young officer had a smooth, boyish face: he couldn’t have been more than twenty-five and looked as if he was about to burst into tears.

“Please take it out and put it on the table.” His voice was shaking.

Roberto wondered what to do. Press the trigger or put down the gun? For a few moments he felt a sense of complete omnipotence, of infinite possibilities. He was the master of life and death. He could choose.

Choose.

He took the barrel out of his mouth and put the gun on the table. It was cocked, and it would only have taken a very slight pressure to produce an irreversible result.

“Can I come closer?” the young officer asked.

“Of course,” Roberto replied, somewhat surprised. Why on earth shouldn’t he come closer? he thought, once again in a complete, coherent sentence.

“Can I take it?” the young man asked when he was at the table.

“Wait,” replied Roberto. He picked up the gun and gently pressed the hammer, rendering it harmless. He detached the magazine, pulled back the slide, and tipped out the bullet that had been waiting in the barrel, ready to go through his brain.

“Now you can take it,” he said at last. “You have to be careful with these things. It doesn’t take much to go off and cause a tragedy.” His voice was neutral, with no hint of irony or sarcasm. It didn’t sound like—it wasn’t—the voice of someone who, just a minute earlier, had been hovering between life and death.

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