Such an old lived in and lovable face. A face that always appeared as though it was on the verge of breaking out into a broad grin and raucous laughter. We used to just simply call him The Grandfather, and to everyone living south of the Mezzogiorno this name was met with either total respect or absolute fear. Those who The Grandfather had no reason to be angry with, had little to be afraid of. But the people who had come to his attention and disappointed him received their punishment; sooner or later they always received a sickly, depraved punishment.
It was 1947, a couple of years after the end of the war that I found myself on my first night officially working for the Grandfather. When I say officially working it wasn’t like I got a social security number, health care and dental, all the same there was no room for doubt that I was employed by The Grandfather.
The Grandfather and some of his associates were big opera aficionados and had gone to enjoy the Barber of Seville at Teatro san Carlo in Naples. The lavish theatre was awash with those who were going to be influential in the rebuilding of Italy after the war; coincidentally these were also the people who had profited the most during the war. An electric charged crackled in the air of the theatre foyer. The air was also infused with the fragrances of some of the finest and most expensive perfumes and eau de colognes. Now that the war had ended the racketeers were of course having to find new sources of revenue, many had an eye on the $13 billion dollars pledged to rebuild Europe under the Marshall Plan which would begin in April next year. Although the plan had been described as “the American plan for the enslavement of Europe”, the people gathered at the opera house were open to being enslaved just so long as they got a hold of a good share of the cash U.S Secretary of State George Marshall had proposed to flood Europe with. These were people from proud families who did business fast, they came through on what they said, there was no need for books, paperwork nor receipts, when you said you would do something and you got it done, because you knew what would happen to you if you didn’t. It was this style of un-bureaucratic business that had seen the infrastructure of Naples rebuilt with great alacrity, if not quality. So it was a big night to be at the theatre and to be seen at the theatre. The Barber of Seville was The Grandfather’s favourite opera; one which he must have listened to a hundred times and one he personally identified with. The plan was simple, him and his entourage were to watch the Opera and then meet up again at The Grandfather’s restaurant for more drinks, but more importantly finalizing business.
The opera unavoidably progressed toward Rosina’s cavatina, The Grandfather’s favourite piece of his favourite opera. Rosina was being played by a beautiful, young and upcoming opera starlet. A most attractive, sultry looking young lady whose hair was so black it shined iridescently in the footlights, with both fullness in the lips and the bosom there was little doubting that the male half of the audience became perceptively more attentive whenever she appeared on stage. In scene two of the first act, Rosina performs her cavatina a fiery piece demanding both great stage presence and supreme singing ability. The Grandfather fell into the music, his soul rising and falling with the music, punctuated by the pitch in the singing of Rosina. The Grandfather pulled faces of post ejaculatory bliss. Then, alarmed he opened his eyes, pulled himself to look over the front of the box and made a sibilant sound as he sucked the air in between the gaps of his aged teeth and tongue. The pupils of his eyes dilated turning them black, his gaze never once left the form of the beautiful Rosina, he consumed her with his gaze, with all his senses while shaking his head.
During the interval I was told to leave the theatre and go to the croquet club. Yes Naples had a croquet club in 1947. Established and left behind by the British after the war. It made me smile, when I thought of what the Romans did for Britain. and in return they gave us a croquet lawn. I was to prepare the croquet lawn for The Grandfather and his guests and to be ready to receive them for play at the end of the opera. The Grandfather had taken up croquet in the belief that it made him appear more aristocratic, interesting and eccentric. The Grandfather was also an Anglophile and believed such a past time to be debonair and becoming of a genuinely civilized man. I was aware that this represented a significant change from what had originally been agreed, whilst being a strange request I knew it was one I could complete easily enough, even though I was left pondering how they intended to play croquet in the dark.
With only the ambient light of a quarter moon to assist me, I hammered all the paraphernalia into the positions as best as I could remember, having only been to the club a couple of times and needless to say for reasons other than to play.
It was then I saw something moving in the darkness behind them, out of the shadows came Roberto, holding a croquet mallet like a baseball bat, running up behind The Grandfather and the girl. The features of his face accentuated by the headlights of the car, it was contorted with all the homicidal fury of a Visigoth berzerka rampaging his way through Rome. As soon as he was within striking range, the mallet swept in an arc with brutal force into the opera singers right knee, with the force of the impact continuing through to the left leg. Understandably the girl fell and after 2 seconds of dumb, shocked , silence the girl let out the sort of wail and scream only a classically trained opera singer could produce.
A pair of polypus dressing forceps were forced down into her throat; they clamped hold of her tongue and extracted it as far as it would stretch out of her mouth. I must take this opportunity to mention just how far the human tongue can be pulled clear of the mouth.
The arrangements as to her fate had already been decided and to initiate the final act only took a slight nod from The Granfather. Roberto, a man I had only talked to once so far, walked up to the girl then knelt down by her head. In one hand he held a crouquet mallet and in the other something I would learn later called a winning peg, which he drove through her tongue and into the ground. Her current predicament now seriously restricted her ability to make much noise.
I was then instructed to wait ten minutes before phoning for an ambulance and then to make my way to the restaurant. In this time The Grandfather and his cronies made a very relaxed almost lethargic get away from the crime scene. But of course for The Grandfather this was no crime, it represented no greater inconvenience than a speeding fine.
I sat on my haunches looking down at the girl. Considering her injuries I was surprised by how little blood there was. Every so often she couldn’t help but whimper, even though to make any noise must have caused excruciating pain. I encouraged her to stay still and that an ambulance would get here in the next half hour. Half an hour, when I said it I thought it would bring her some relief, looking back on it I can appreciate just how sadistic it must have sounded, what type of person waits to call an ambulance for someone in such a miserable condition.
At that moment i was unaware that as the years passed I would witness many more extreme acts of violence which didn’t require an ambulance. And the reason for The Grandfather’s brutal attack on the opera singer, nothing more than singing her cavatina flat. After all it was his favourite opera.