She ran. As the winds dictated, as the smell of dust and fresh rain water directed, as the sound of stray bullets slightly missing the back of her head directed, she ran. Along the gloomy streets of Naples, down the corner into the alley way, her feet moved gracefully on the wet stone grounds while the cold winds spread the ends of her frock coat wide behind her. She could hardly believe she made it work.
The sound of the bullet stopped following her and she slowed down to breathe, and finally came to a stop. She smiled and looked up to the dark night sky as she felt drops of rain run down her cheeks. It was time to proceed to the next step of her plan, for the capo would not let her escape - the capo never lets you escape. She walked down the street while turning her head in every direction to have a hint of where she might be, and then she saw a sign that said La Quinta Strada – the fifth avenue. Only a few blocks away from her tiny base of operations she would wait for her designated driver to pick her up – all according to plan – but she felt it followed through a little too smoothly.
For several days she had thought of it, for several days she polished her plan. The most dangerous heist of her days of antique theft was a pinch away from success. She pulled out the item from within her satchel and ran her thumb against its surface, the mask of Wisen they called it. It had the form of any other venetian carnival mask, except for the glow it gave off in the dark – venetian masks were not known to glow in the dark – which made her curious as to why it was valued so greatly by the appraisers. Nevertheless, she was going to get her reward, and stay far away from theft for as long as the money would take her, but first she had to escape the territory of la casa nostra else the capo was bound to find her. As she paced through the city, the mafia’s slogan spoke continuously in her head, saying cammini con I morti quando provichi la casa nostra – you walk with the dead when you provoke our house.
The mafia led by the infamous capo, popularly known by his alias Tim Allen was the biggest crime organization in the region of Sicily, it was also the engine that ran the city of Naples. One could say that they were more like a government organization when it came to Naples, it was well known throughout the city that the majority of government officials ranging from the mayor to the tax collectors were affiliated with the mafia. They collected taxes, created and enforced laws during the day in exchange for security and a somewhat good governance. At night they did what most crime organisations would do, break fingers, smash heads, and everything that made them the monsters they were. But there was something peculiar to the modus operandi of the mafia that made them stand out well enough to dominate the entire Sicily, something that could be tied to the infamous capo, which was their absolutely violent way of dealing with those who dared to provoke them. They did more than just pull finger nails, no, they made you bite the curb and shatter your teeth as well as your jaw, when they know you provoked the house, you will walk with the dead.
Finally, she arrived at the base, which was no more than a single room apartment where she had all the equipment which she needed in preparation for the heist. She pulled a mobile device from her pocket and dialed in a number and paced across the room while she waited for a reply.
“Johnny, Johnny, I’ve got the package.”
“Good work, Beth,” he replied. “The same location?”
“Yes, John. The location. How long?”
“Fifteen. Thank you.”
Fifteen minutes, she heaved a sigh and leaned beside the window. It was enough time before they discovered the location, provided she wasn’t followed. She reached for a pack of cigars on top of her desk, beside a matchbox and an ashtray. She lit a cigar and drew in a breath of smoke, hoping to ease her anxiety. She wasn’t used to being anxious while on the job, but her legs moved back and forth as if having minds of their own. Her insides churned, and her fingers jittered while she steadied the cigar close to her lips. Everything was going accordingly and yet she couldn’t silence that inner voice that kept telling her that somehow, somewhere, something wasn’t right.
Ten minutes felt like fifty, but alas she finally settled down on the floor beneath the window, waiting for the sound of a car engine, while she drew deep breaths of smoke from her second cigar. Anytime soon, she thought, she just had to survive the disturbance of her unsettled gut for five minutes longer. The environment was peaceful as far as she could tell, that was until she had two heavy footsteps from outside the window that disrupted the serenity of the rainy night. She peeped through the window and found two tall, thick-built men wearing black leather jackets, holding sub-machine guns, marching into the building’s main entrance. She moved to the desk and quenched the cigar on the ashtray and then moved to the opposite wardrobe to hide herself.
The voice in her head grew louder and louder. Where did her plan go wrong? She was sure of a loophole in her grand heist, but she still failed to single out the flaw. Before she could think of another word, the bruisers sent the door flying with multiple rounds of bullets from their sub-machine guns, riddling both the door and the walls full of holes. Beth could her heart beat in her throat, as she covered her mouth with both hands. She closed her eyes and reached for a lever behind her, her chest rose and fell in fear as she hoped, O, so dearly, the bruisers would not spray any more rounds in her direction.
The lever was stuck, and therefore her escape route was cut off. Nevertheless, she pulled relentlessly while peeping through the wardrobe to see the men. They seemed to mindlessly scour the apartment; destroying the furniture, and flipping over anything their strength could carry with as much ease as they lifted their double handed weapons. One of the men turned towards her and their eyes met, she couldn’t tell if he saw her through the tiny hole, but she was sure that he felt the presence of a timid, shaky woman in the behind the wooden doors.
The man stared at the wardrobe for a moment and started slowly to her location. One foot after the other. She held her face tighter, silencing heavy breathing as she pulled harder, and then it came to her; the other direction! She moved her hand the other way and pushed the lever. The platform fell, and she found herself at the bottom floor within the blink of an eye.
Finally out of their range, she could breathe and escape. Escape. Johnny was on his way. A minute left. She needed a place to hide before he arrived. A confrontation was one thing she feared more than most things. In spite of her dangerous line of work, she could not stand guns, and so she never used one. All she had to do – in every situation – was to go in, acquire the package, and go out. It was something she hated doing, but perfectly excelled at – as long as she was good enough to help them, then it was worth doing.
She paced through the street, through the puddles as the wind blew past her, carrying with it little drops of water, and the subtle smell of gunpowder and gasoline. The bruisers must have parked their automobiles nearby, she had best get away from it quickly. She picked up her pace and strode across with her hands deep in her pockets, when suddenly dozens of lights came on flashing from down the street in the direction of the wind. The bruisers didn’t come with a car. They came with an army to flush her out.
Several nozzles pointed at her, as well as lights so bright she shaded her eyes with a hand. So many cars and armed men before them. In front of the group was an averagely tall figure in a white tuxedo and a black dress shirt, matching white shoes and hat.
“Restituici quello che hai rubato e potrei essere misericordioso, » the man in the tuxedo said. “Return what you stole and I might be merciful.”
His voice seemed to command authority, with the right amount of audacity. There was a chance none other than Tim Allen, but he was the last person she thought she would cross paths with while on the job. It was inconceivable.
It did not occur to her that she was about to be wasted, she stood still with a hand in her pocket and the other above her eyes. She began to think about what other things she could have been doing, what her life would be like if she had better circumstances. What would it feel like to be embraced by another? Truly embraced. No guns, no violence, no mafias.
“You must not have understood.” The man started towards her. She clearly understood his Italian, as well as his English, she just didn’t think of how to react, and was lost therefore, on the spot where she stood.
A loud noise grew from the dark alley-way close to her. It had been there for a while, but she only started paying attention when it was too close, and too loud to ignore. Whatever it was, it was big enough to power through any obstacles in the alley, and small enough to fit in the narrow path. The sound became deafening and a large vehicle emerged from the darkness with full speed and formed a barrier between Beth and the white tuxedo man.
The door flung open and she could see Johnny clearly at the driver’s seat.
“Beth! Get in!”
She ran inside without a thought.
“Shoot them!” the tuxedo man yelled.
The men fired their bullets at the vehicle, only to watch them bounce back upon making contact with its surface. Johnny quickly drove them away from the scene, his driving skills were as impressive as ever. His timing however, not as good, but sufficed. She sighed and placed her head on the dashboard.
“Thank you, John,” she said.
“You did a good job,” he replied.
They finally stopped in front of an old pawn shop – that was what the sign said it was. Johnny left the car with her satchel, instructing her to stay put and wait for him to return. Did she listen? No.
She strolled into the shop and had a look at the items up on the shelves. Johnny must have noticed her in the shop, but he wasn’t going to say anything, it wasn’t her first time going against an instruction. The items were attractive to her, but none were worth stealing – would definitely not fetch a good sum. She looked at the shopkeeper who had his lens fixed at the bridge of his nose, carefully studying the mask. In other words, he was the appraiser. Appraisers were quite common in Sicily, but the very good ones were rare. One who could efficiently analyze the mask of wisen was impossible to find. The appraiser before her was most likely an expert who worked for one of the mafias. His short, curly grey hair, high cheek bones, and chiseled jaw-line were signs of a high status, and a bold character. His beard was well shaved, his pocket watch, ring, and silver cufflinks told a tale of the depth of his pockets – the shop was too small for him, it was surely a disguise.
The man put the mask on the table and looked at Johnny in the eyes. Beth could sense something was wrong. She moved closer and stood a certain distance behind Johnny to listen to what the man had to say. He took off the lens and placed it on the table.
“Johnny boy,” he said. “This is a dud. It is fake.”
“What do you mean it is fake?”
“I mean this is not the original mask. It is just an upgraded carnival mask.”
“You can’t be serious, signore Giovani!”
It wasn’t real after all. No wonder it was so easy. When she thought about it, the capo’s men did not chase after them when they ran off in the vehicle. And the bruisers found her in her base without actually chasing after her. The missing piece…
“Be quiet, Beth!”
“Johnny! They are coming!”
“Beth, I told you to…”
The windows were smashed open with red bricks and men with black coats dived in, holding machine guns, while others trooped in from the door, pointing their nozzles at her head as well as Johnny’s and the appraiser. From behind, the tall frames and coats, the white tuxedo man emerged with his hand in his pockets, and a smile on his face.
“I appreciate you bringing me here…jewel thief. Signore Giovani! Your mistake was thinking you could get away so easily.”