Ugo Vinciullo was trying not to show his surprise. As a Sicilian politician he had heard every possible barefaced demand for getting a piece of any cash. But this was special.
He smiled, and spoke carefully to the group of men across the table from him.
“Can I be sure I have understood correctly,” he asked politely. He kept his voice very even. He was holding his temper in check, but only just. “You, Signor Spinelli, are the owner of the Barbara S, the tanker which is spilling eighty thousand tonnes of oil onto our beautiful coastline. Your tanker broke in two parts and is now the source of a black tide which will kill our seabirds, our fishing and our tourism. And you have come here today not to say you are sorry. Not to seek the pardon of the people of Siracusa. Not to offer your assistance and undoubted wealth to help to clean up the mess. My own villa is polluted with oily spray, and you come to me with a demand, not an offer.”
Across the table from him he could see the muscles bunching in the shoulders of Enrico Spinelli’s suit. Spinelli turned and glanced at one of the two men with him. Just as nasty looking, thought Ugo. Typical of Naples, the scum rises to the top there.
There was a long pause. Ugo knew better than to speak. He was not scared, but he was curious about these thugs.
“Presidente Vinciullo,” replied Enrico Spinelli. He was staring intently at Ugo now. “I come with no demands. I can apologise if you wish. It would make no difference. And in any case, it is I who have lost a good ship and a good charter. You have gained the chance to line your pockets. My P&I insurance people are already here. They are making your people rich. Your people are queuing up to claim for their dreadful losses, and they are getting paid. They cry wonderfully as they put the cheque in their pockets. So please, don’t ask me to cry for you.”
“No, no demand,” went on Spinelli, leaning forward now. “A simple offer, one which it would not be good business to refuse. You are the regional authority. You have organised the waste disposal from this clean up. All the fouled sand and rocks and recovered oil is taken away by contractors organised by you. But paid for by my insurers. Now, you see, my investors,” he nodded to signify the two men who sat silently either side of him, “my investors are experts in waste disposal. The oil, in a way, is mine, the spill, in a way, is mine, the payouts you are getting from the insurers are paid for by my premiums. So it is only reasonable that a small part of the contracting is also mine. Or rather, given to my expert waste disposal people.”
He spread his hairy, stubby hands out on the table in front of him and looked hard at Ugo.
“What could be fairer, Mr Regional President? I bring you the oil, you give my people the contract to take it away again.”
Ugo almost laughed at the brazen request. But he knew better than to laugh at people like this. It has to be Camorra, he guessed. They have made a fortune by illegally dumping waste from Naples. Now they want to do that here. He was thinking fast, although his face remained impassive. I have Laura on to me to cut back the share of the local Mafia. That will be hard. Now I have the Naples Camorra muscling in. Can I fight two such groups at once? Can I get them to fight each other?
“Gentlemen,” he said. “In the privacy of this office you are very frank. I for my part will be frank too. You know that the waste disposal and the people who are working are contracted here through powerful local interests. Very powerful local interests. Family interests. It would be very hard for me to change that.”
The reply hit him hard.
“It will be very hard for you if you do not, Vinciullo.” The man to the left of Spinelli was speaking now, his Neapolitan dialect so thick Ugo could hardly pick the words out. “Stop the bullshit and the fancy talk. You have to face down your local families. They are finished. The family head lives in a hole in the ground, for God’s sake. They won’t fuck with us. The waste disposal contract for my company will be on your desk tomorrow when you get your fat arse into the office. You sign it, or your fat arse will be in a hole with your local families who are a bunch of local thick shits.”
For a moment the office was silent, then the chairs were scraped back as the three men stood up to leave.
“Until tomorrow, Signor Presidente,” said Spinelli, smiling.