I Tombaroli

Antiquities trafficking was undeniably more work than any normal job. Not only because of the intense heavy lifting and scrutiny from law enforcement involved, but because of being adroit at successfully hiding the loot once it was pillaged and contending with how generally competitive the market was. After all, i tombaroli all knew there were usually only a few sources to pilfer, as well as the best times to pilfer them. That was why you had to be quick if you wanted to snatch the bounty, as opposed to being forced to have your nose rubbed in the less valuable scraps. And, try as Interpol might to keep a database of the stolen goods, they had no fucking clue the extent of that which i tombaroli had managed to squirrel away. Just biding their time for the perfect black market buyer. Waiting like ticks to emerge from the woodwork when the moment was finally right.

Dr. Pezzonato, who seemed to be a doctor of nothing other than studying the thieving habits of those he could only dream of emulating if he himself had the coglioni, was sure to constantly inform the various long arms of the law on his “findings.” According to him, “statistics” showed that roughly over fifty percent of all ancient Roman artifacts available in the marketplace were a product of thievery. Of the deft hands of i tombaroli. For Pezzonato, the most elusive and highly desired for apprehension was a man known only by the nickname of La Statua–a moniker that obviously stemmed from his penchant for kifing Roman busts and statues. Those were his favorites, even if they didn’t always necessarily possess the most value. Clearly, La Statua stole not only for monetary reasons, but because of his own appreciation for beautiful objects. Italians, in fact, tended to take beauty as par for the course, often shocked to find the way other countries lived with such a dreary lack of aesthetic joy.

However, in the typical maschilista fashion of the Italians, what no one knew–because they never would have imagined the female gender capable of such a thing–was that La Statua was not un uomo but an elderly woman calling all the shots. That was the thing about being both aged and female: no one had any expectations for you. Giada Consecco–the true name of La Statua–had been banking on this her entire life. For she had first developed the idea to form a ragtag gang of tombaroli that she could eventually manage without actually having to do any of the dirty work when she was still in the twilight of her youth: her forties (even if the average Italian man would tell you that a girl is day-old bread after twenty-five, perhaps adhering to the Jean-Luc Godard philosophy as funneled through Anna Karina’s mouth in Le Petit Soldat or some such other French New Wave effort of the auteur’s).

At first, she worked the enterprise entirely on her own. And she was endlessly discreet for someone tooling around desolate Roman ruins with a metal detector. The problem was, these ruins weren’t always desolate. So many others were aware that they had a better chance of hitting the jackpot in this manner than continuing to bother with “living honestly.” It was hard to find a crime in “stealing” the past when the state seemed intent on robbing its denizens of their future.

Ironically, it was one of the most visible ruins in all of Rome, Largo di Torre Argentina, where Giada did some of her best work. One had to be skilled, of course, at scouring. Scavenging. Like a bottom feeder, a vulture. Any creature willing to pick at the remains without getting squeamish. Like the female gender itself, Largo di Torre Argentina had been plucked and debased into oblivion long ago. To the point where many believed there was truly nothing left to sneakily jump down into the pit for… unless to pay some bizarre tribute to the ghost of Caesar. Most didn’t think it was worth the risk, preferring to save a potential arrest for something more secure in its reward. But Giada saw gold in those scraps. Those randomly placed broken columns, a missed vase, or piece of one. And yes, occasionally, if a tombarolo was willing to go deep enough under the ruins that urban development efforts made vulnerable, they could find a true treasure. The only problem was time. It was, as with all things, both a matter of timing and having enough of it.

Perhaps only in Italy would there be a special branch of law enforcement dubbed the Carabinieri Art Squad, which was what made a few tombaroli nervous. But to Giada, they were laughable goons. No match for her own squad’s quickness and dexterity in the practice of moving massive quantities within minutes. Her most valuable players were all selected from the pool of her very own lineage. She had her son, Pietro, her two grandsons, Marco and Pasquale, and her three nephews, Tommaso, Brigante and Isadoro. With this brigade of blood-related men ranging from their teen years to their early forties, La Statua was a near unstoppable force to be reckoned with for the likes of Interpol and the carabinieri. Near unstoppable. But like all “great” thieves, her hubris would be her downfall. That, and underestimating the idea that humans–especially Italian ones–actually do pay attention to other people outside of themselves. Particularly those that rode the metro.

Urban development would be her boon and her bane. For while it meant that construction workers unwittingly did the grunt work for her and her brood, it also meant more people scuttling around the ravaged ruins–both civilians and fellow tombaroli alike. To ascertain the best part of the day to “go for the gold,” as it were, Giada would play up her old lady tendencies to a dramatic tee. This included hobbling along the platform and acting as though she missed the metro solely as a result of being slow, when, in fact, this slowness was intended to help her case the joint and determine the emptiest minutes of the day. Luckily for her, people weren’t all that helpful in Rome, the way they might be in Naples, rushing to her side to ask if she needed aid. The answer would have been an emphatic No, she fucking didn’t. She just needed the goddamn loot. To be safe in the knowledge that the subsequent generations in her lineage would be taken care of.

Having an ex-husband (or really, a man who was still her husband on paper, but fucked anything that was willing) with a freeport also greatly aided Giada and her clan from coming up against any legal action should one of their relics be discovered by police officials after the fact. For they allowed their bounty to sit in that freeport for a decade or so before putting it on the black market. That way, they could have the expired statute of limitations on their side. So yes, the impending generations of the Consecco famiglia would most assuredly benefit from all the biding of time. This loophole was padded by having several art dealers on their payroll who would happily doctor the necessary certifications to make it seem as though these antiquities were being sold or auctioned by legitimate people. Unfortunately, one of these art dealers, Dario Fontato, ended up presenting a stolen artifact of the Consecco clan to Dr. Pezzonato for appraisal, not knowing he was the very being who had taken it upon himself to keep his eyes constantly peeled for signs of La Statua’s work in his “industry.” Antiquities and art history were his business, after all. He felt everyone had a responsibility to put a stop to these nefarious tombaroli.

So when Fontato’s presentation of some recently “acquired” bronze head set off Dr. Pezzonato’s suspicions, he dug deeper into the matter to find that the paperwork was totally bogus. Pezzonato’s accusations managed to get Fontato to quake in his proverbial boots. He didn’t want to risk being blacklisted from the art world, promising to share all the information he had on the relic, as well as La Statua himself. Or herself, as Pezzonato soon found out. In addition to where and when Giada would next to be performing her reconnaissance.

It turned out to be within Line C’s Amba Aradam stop. Just past 11:15 a.m. There she was all right, really playing up her “I’m a haggard, aged woman” shtick to perfection. It was almost enough to make Pezzonato want to push her right into in oncoming subway. But then she wouldn’t get her due comeuppance: public shame and a prison sentence.

He stalked her surreptitiously on the platform, she being oblivious. Even though, in less confident days, she would have clocked him immediately. Alas, these were not those earlier days and it only took a matter of minutes for Pezzonato to catch her in the act. She wasn’t supposed to steal anything that day, just survey the premises for opportunity. But something had caught her eye and she couldn’t resist. Couldn’t take the chance that it might be nabbed by someone else before she could get her own sticky fingers on it. So she made her descent, looking mighty agile all of the sudden when she thought no one was looking. But oh, someone was. And he caught it all on video. A video he promptly directed to the interested authorities that would be all too keen to bust her entire operation wide open.

They let the Consecco family go about their business for a while longer after that, gathering as much intel as possible to convict them. Their crimes even led Interpol to other sought after tombaroli. What they hadn’t counted on was Giada having a plan for just such a situation as this. She was willing to fall like Rome itself when the heat got too hot, and had accordingly set herself up to be the one to take the lashings if and when a punishment arrived. For the one thing the authorities could never pinpoint was where, exactly, the Consecco crew hid their goods. No matter how much tailing, it seemed as though somebody always tipped them off just in time. That somebody being Giada, who had gotten wise to what Pezzonato was doing after it was too late. Thus, upon leaving the Amba Aradam area that day, she set her plan in motion. One that would lead all concerned parties to her and her alone, while her family hid in the freeport (Giada falsely assuming they could be trusted to do so) that the carabinieri could never find until the situation calmed down. Until they, at the very least, had the pound of flesh they wanted from Giada. And she was ready to give it, if it meant protecting her family, and all future progeny thereof.

***

While on trial, complete with a media frenzy surrounding it, her nephews were able to pull off their greatest accomplishment yet: a fruitful raid of the catacombs. No, they did not heed Giada when she told them to hide indefinitely. Instead, they were soon joined at the top of the hole they had burrowed by Giada’s son and grandsons to assist with hauling the loot on the outside. The crew was using another decoy vehicle–one that didn’t actually belong to them. What they couldn’t have known was that it was all a trap. In Giada’s absence, they had become vulnerable to being tailed without forewarning from her or one of her moles, less and less loyal without La Statua herself to take orders from. Without her guiding hand, they were sitting ducks, soon apprehended by the carabinieri who had been tipped off by the same art dealer that confessed everything to Pezzonato. After that confession, Fontato had been able to maintain his cool, and in so doing, convince the Consecco family that he wasn’t the rat in their operation. But oh, how he was. Gnawing on the big ol’ piece of formaggio that was his own security. But what about the security of Giada’s beloved family? What would happen to it now? How could they survive without her? And to what end?

The carabinieri believed they had achieved some kind of grand coup that day when they caught the rest of her brethren. But Giada knew the tombaroli comprised a Hydra that couldn’t be stopped. And so long as she kept breathing, she would spend her final days plotting how to get the rest of her fellow thieves out of jail. If they had found a non-conventional way into the catacombs, surely they could burrow out of a prison. Failing that, it was up to Pietro, Marco, Pasquale, Tommaso, Brigante and Isadoro to have as many conjugal visits as possible. They would spawn new tombaroli if necessary. The legend and skills of La Statua would be passed down. One way or the other.

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