Dos Gardenias (Part Two).
They were enemies, Malusardi told himself; and in war one kills as easily as one can get killed. But seen from up close and observing his face printed on the light-reactive photographic paper, inevitably the man lost his status of political adversary and became just another man, who maybe had a woman at home who waited for him and maybe even children. Just a guy who looked at himself in mirror in the morning, shaving, detecting with some regret his new gray hair. Then he had breakfast, he lit the first cigarette and scanned the newspapers titles. From that point of view, the man didn’t seem like an enemy anymore; but in a few minutes Malusardi would put a bullet in his brain.
“I’ve got to do it,” he would have liked to explain to him “but it’s nothing personal.” Even though the filthy newspaper the reporter worked for had accused him personally of having been a member of the group who had killed the magistrate in Rome, while Malusardi instead was in Milan and did not even know the assassins. And another paper of the same political bent had published his name, address and telephone number, calling him a Fascist terrorist. It got to the point that his mother had to take refuge with some cousins in Como, because she got threatening phone calls at every hour of the night.
There was nothing personal but, in the end, Andrea would kill that damned reporter. Period. Mors tua, vita mea, isn’t that what the ancient Romans used to say?
The man walked passed the Estadio Naciónal, heading for the Tennis Club. He cut through the cheering crowd on its way to the bleachers. Some people were elegantly dressed, in jackets and ties; the women in pretty flowery dresses and hats. Some fans had a more common aspect; they wore t-shirts and casual shirts and held little flags. Malusardi noticed that all of them had European features: many of them were blond; while the wide and dark faces, with the typical Andean features, could only be seen behind the stands that sold flags, soda pop, popcorn, and boiled corn on the cob.
He entered a bar and ordered a coffee. Right after having hurriedly drunk it he went to the restroom, closed the tiny door and extracted the handgun. He wanted to check that everything was all right. He ejected the magazine. It contained six rounds. He racked the slide, closed it, and checked the trigger. He reinserted the magazine in the grip of the gun with a sharp click, racked the slide again and put a cartridge in the chamber. Then he de-cocked the hammer and put the gun back in his pocket. He was ready, although he felt a bothersome shake in his legs and felt strangely tired.
He reached the small square near the Tennis Club, and saw the dehors of the café in which his man should be sitting. He spotted him almost instantaneously. The journalist was sitting at a side table with a blonde woman, and was smoking a cigarette of the same brand Malusardi had lit a moment ago and was now holding in his right hand.
In front of the journalist there was a glass, half empty of a milk-like liquid; maybe an omnipresent Pisco Sour. He raised his sight, trying to see beyond the waiters who came and went with their trays loaded with drinks. On the street corner there was the guy Mannucci had talked about: a man with dark glasses and a Panama hat. Malusardi could not see the getaway car, but it must be parked just around the corner.
He looked around himself again, observing the square flooded by the sun. There was a busy bustle, but strangely there weren’t many policemen: just a couple of carabineros who patrolled the opposite side of the widening, and a pair of municipal agents at the entrance of the Tennis Club. Malusardi figured that among the crowd there were also mixed in DINA agents in plain-clothes but, if Mannucci was correct, he should have had nothing to fear from them. And Mannucci was always right. There was no reason to worry.
He threw away the butt of the cigarette, and touched the pistol inside his jacket. It was cold and heavy and it almost felt it was about to fall through the bottom of the pocket. Suddenly, he was pierced by a shiver, and had the unpleasant feeling of being cold. “Te pasó un muerto,” Isabelita would have said, who like many Latin Americans was rather superstitious. When you feel a shiver, she explained to him, it means that a spook just passed near you. Malusardi smiled, but he didn’t feel at all relaxed. “If there’s a dead man in this square,” he thought, trying to infuse some courage in himself “he’s that guy sitting there. A walking dead, actually a corpse who smokes and drinks Pisco Sour.”
He got closer and checked again his dad’s the old Longines. There were still two minutes left to the X hour: after that, every moment would be the right moment to act. He just had to wait for the blond woman to get up and leave. Then he would plant two bullets in the head of that damned reporter. It was impossible to miss. The man wouldn’t even have the time to react; and very likely not even to be afraid. He would pass from life to death in the fraction of a second.
“To die is just an instant. It takes more time to smoke a cigarette or to drink a Pisco Sour,” he thought.
He looked again at the couple sitting at the table of the café. Now the woman was leaning towards her mate. She was kissing him: a long and passionate kiss. But it was the kiss of Judas!
Mannucci had told him: the blond gal was working for DINA. Maybe her role was just that: to bring the Italian reporter there and distract him while they waited for the arrival of Malusardi. Waiting for death.
“Damn!” thought Malusardi, “You can’t really trust anybody on this earth”
It was a matter of an instant. The blond passed her hand through the hair of journalist and got up from the chair. Malusardi could have sworn that for an instant he had seen her look towards him, who by then was about sixty feet from the café. Then she took her purse and she headed indoors, towards the ladies’ room.
While he walked the few remaining feet that separated him from his target, Malusardi felt his heart beat madly. He would have liked to look around, to make sure that that patrol of Carabineros wasn’t close, but he could not take his eyes off his objective. The Italian man had picked up the glass and was sipping his cocktail.
He got closer. He was now at just fifteen feet from the journalist. He felt his legs weak and his hands as cold as icicles. A horrible thought crossed his mind: “What if I can’t shoot? What if my finger refuses to pull the trigger?”
He chased that image off his brain: “I should think of nothing, absolutely nothing. I just have to pull out the gun and shoot. Then run like a robot. In half an hour, I’ll be safe at home and everything will be over.”
He took two more steps; now he was at about ten feet from his victim. Six feet. He could not hear any noise anymore, nor could he see the busy coming and going of the people in the square.
He extracted the gun from his jacket. It was really heavy, and cold, actually ice cold. From the distance of three feet he raised his arm and pointed the gun to the head of the other man. He did not hesitate at all. Contrary to his fears of a few moments ago, his index finger had no difficulty at all to press the trigger of the Walther. One, two, three times. Bang, bang, bang.
Nothing happened. The reporter looked at him with terrified eyes, waiting for the shot that would end his days. Malusardi felt lost. He could not have missed from that distance!
He pulled the trigger once more, aiming at the chest of the Italian. Bang.
The reporter got up trembling, and unscathed. Then he ran at breakneck pace inside the café, while the other customers were dispersing in the square, screaming.
Malusardi looked for the man with the dark suit and the Panama hat, who should have been at the corner. But he saw him much closer than he thought he should be. He was five yards away, and brandished a .44 Special revolver.
Before Andrea could open his mouth, the man in the dark suit unloaded the cylinder of the gun in him, striking Andrea in the chest, in the stomach and in the neck.
Andrea Malusardi dropped his Walther PPK and collapsed on the asphalt. While he felt life slipping away from within him, almost without pain, he noticed that the gardenia he had pinned in his jacket had fallen on the ground, a few inches from his head. And he understood: “Isabelita…why?”
From the shadow that had stretched on the asphalt he realized that the man in the dark suit was now standing above him, and was now pointing his revolver to his head. Andrea didn’t even try to escape. It would’ve been useless. He just closed his eyes and waited for the coup de grace as a liberation.
On the other side of the square, on a balcony of the Hotel Austral, Raffaele Mannucci put the binoculars down on the table, sighed deeply and picked up his glass, filled to the brim with scotch on the rocks. Sitting beside Mannucci, a man of about fifty with a moustache, dark glasses and a brown pinned striped linen suite, shook the hash off his Partagas. Mannucci took a sip, then another one. Sighed again deeply, then he emptied the entire glass.
“Well, it’s over,” he said.
“And everything went according to plans,” replied the man with the moustache.
“Satisfy one curiosity Mannucci, please: Why him? Had he betrayed you?”
“Not yet, General, but sooner or later he would have. He was a man who asked too many questions and had too many doubts.”
“A weak man, therefore.”
“No. A purist.”
General Gutierrez pulled on his cigar, then took a sip of his drink too.
“I can understand how you feel, Mannucci. This sort of things is never pleasant, especially because he was one of your own. But just think how useful this outcome will turn out to be for your organization. That man, Malusardi was suspected of the murder of that magistrate, wasn’t he? Well, we will discover the gun that was used in Rome in his apartment, and we will send it with our best regards to our Italian colleagues; so they will have a guilty man and maybe they will loosen their grip on the other comrades of yours.
“And you will dispel the suspect of providing a safe haven for Italian neo-fascist terrorists, and will look like the ones who are on the side of the law, even if it means protecting communist reporters.”
“That’s exactly right. As you can see, the sacrifice of your man will be very advantageous to everyone.”
Raffaele Mannucci poured himself another scotch and shook his head.
“Poor Andrea! I thought he was…shrewder.”
“He didn’t realize at all that our agent had replaced his cartridges with blank ones; but I have to admit that it wouldn’t have been easy, because our ballistic experts are very skilled.”
“He wasn’t very familiar with handguns. He could have never figured that out.”
“Well, on the other hand, before leaving this valley of tears, poor Malusardi was gloriously laid. I know Isabelita really well and, I assure you, she’s a volcano!”
The general burst out laughing with gusto and threw down the last gulp of Pisco Sour. Mannucci instead was silent, and finished his scotch calmly. In the distance, from the bleachers of the tennis club of the Estadio Nacional came a roar and a burst of applause.
The Davis Cup final, between Chile and Italy, had begun.
Special thanks to J.J.P. for reviewing the English text (and there is also a Part One, of course). L. Pavese.
Special thanks to J.J.P. for reviewing the English text (and there is also a Part One, of course). L. Pavese.