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Prisoner of the Rock
Translated by Clothilde Courtois
“Prisoner of the Rock”
Written By Héron-Mimouni
Copyright © 2015 Luigi Ciardelli and Corinne Héron-Mimouni
All rights reserved
Distributed by Babelcube, Inc.
Translated by Clothilde Courtois
Cover Design © 2015 Corinne Héron-Mimouni
“Babelcube Books” and “Babelcube” are trademarks of Babelcube Inc.
Prisoner of the Rock
CHAPTER 2 | A PROMISE
CHAPTER 3 | PENITENTIARY TOURISM
CHAPTER 4 | FROM ONE DAY TO THE NEXT
CHAPTER 5 | THE FORTRESS OF MONACO
CHAPTER 7 | A PRISON WITHIN THE PRISON
CHAPTER 8 | THE LAMB
CHAPTER 9 | CELL TWENTY-TWO
CHAPTER 10 | IRON WORK
CHAPTER 11 | THE ESCAPE
CHAPTER 12 | FREE
25 DECEMBER, 2002
FROM ONE DAY TO THE NEXT
THE FORTRESS OF MONACO
MY FLIGHT OVER A CUCKOO’S NEST
A PRISON WITHIN THE PRISON
10. IRON WORK
11. THE ESCAPE
The first and last names of all the protagonists of this story have been modified, aside from those of the American Ted Maher and of the author, Luigi Ciardelli.
25 DECEMBER, 2002
My back is aching. Time is passing as if in slow motion, not because I feel contemplative, but rather because of the uncomfortable bench. My eyes are transfixed by the flame. It oscillates, and at times dulls the light that shines on the stained-glass windows. The candle is distracting me from the imposing wooden cross that is blocking my view, just as everything else does here. I feel restless and tormented. I am infinitely more irritated than usual. From the wall, Christ - with his crown of thorns - is provoking me, with his desperate and compassionate eyes. I have no desire to bear the weight of this burden... It is too unfair. Yet I know the weight of a sentence. Has this not been the extent of my life for many years already? So many that my mind refuses to even quantify!
In this sea of white, I can see a man busying himself. He is speaking from behind the altar. He is speaking about Jesus, although he is really speaking about us. About me. I tolerate his words and gestures less and less by the minute, his soothing yet hypocritical hand movement waving along with his “Dearly beloved brothers and sisters...”
“A child was born. Born in a manger in Bethlehem...”
My mind wanders. This bishop comes here once a year to do penance behind these tall gates. Listen to him who may. “The manifestation of God... The great mystery of faith.” The immaculate roughcast walls are closing in around me. I attempt to quieten my heartbeat. I focus on a point in front of me, and exhale on the breath of an Amen.
In my head, I have formulated my very own homily, inspired by resentment. I jump up, slide over to the left and walk out into the alley. I can feel the surprised look of the Attorney General. He too has joined us on this pious day; though he will go on to celebrate it well away from this prison. The chapel is small, and I reach the altar in just a few steps. The bishop looks at me, his mouth half open, one hand up in the air and a finger pointing to the sky. I point my own finger towards him... “You have said your homily, now it’s time for me to say mine.”
I turn towards the assembly, constituted of men and women dressed in the blue tracksuits defining our condition, as well as a few volunteer women. Is this brunette in the corner not a part of the royal family? But above all, yes above all, this man in the dark suit and tie in the image of this cursed place, Monsieur Delet, who is now touching the arm of the pale-faced director. I start, “All this talk of justice, yet my detention is arbitrary.” The image of the prosecutor leaning over to the ear of the director appears in the hubbub of my thoughts. I am guessing his question: who is this one? And the director’s answer: it’s Ciardelli, the ball-breaker. But my mind is already racing.
- ...And I consider myself sequestrated.
The prosecutor, all suit and tie, stands up and calls for order.
- That’s enough! Quiet!
- I have as much right to speak as you do, I replied.
- We are in the middle of mass. Go back to your seat and I will see you later. We will speak about your case again.
I give a small unreligious salute, weave back through the benches and sit down. Silence. The bishop steps forward and clears his throat. The man had lost his thread.
Monsieur Delet, the prosecutor, had understood what I meant. Once the mass over, I find him waiting for me in the corridor as the other inmates walk towards the iron door.
- What is this scheming all about? he starts.
- This “scheming”, as you say, is about my sequestration. I do not belong in this prison! The Aix-en-Provence court signed an extradition agreement between France and Italy and it must be enforced. This is a travesty of justice and you are in breach of this agreement! When I finished serving my sentence in France, I was to be handed over to Italy. Instead, I was sequestrated here. And you have not even renewed the international arrest warrant!
- Mr Ciardelli, you know full well that Monaco is an enclave. We cannot - and I, least of all - decide to send you over to Italy without the permission of France.
- Spare me the usual litany of your sidekicks. This is exactly the same discourse as the director’s. It’s as if he himself was speaking, and...
- And nothing, Mr Ciardelli. If I understand you correctly, and indeed ignore your earlier exhibition, I must bring back to your attention the fact that you are here because of a crime you have committed.
- Idle talk... I want something tangible. I want to go where I am meant to be, because an extradition agreement was signed with Italy. But I am not like you, io non parlo a vanvera e dico that if between Christmas and the Feast of Epiphany I am not handed over to Italy, I will do things to this detention house that will make this whole Principality and its high society laugh out loud!
- You are talking about Monaco, Sir, about the Principality of Monaco!
- I know full well where I am, Mr Prosecutor, incarcerated in Monaco’s Detention House. And it is from this here prison that I will make sure that Monaco is ridiculed in front of everyone!
- You are making explicit threats, says the procurer, now relinquishing the use of “Mr Ciardelli”.
- Not at all. This is not a threat. It’s a promise.
A labyrinth of tiles. Large rectangular beige floor tiles, and smaller lighter ones on the walls between the cell doors. Each door is framed by a guillotine window. The cold atmosphere of a hospital. It is as if I was seeing this for the first time, on the first morning of my incarceration, already several months back. The air conditioning blows warm air on my face. A deluxe, outlaw prison. Christmas in Monaco. A Christmas heavy with threats. Because the prosecutor, Monsieur Delet, was right - I had waved threats under his nose, like a red rag to a bull. He would have laughed about it, had he not been afraid that I would play a bad trick...or two.
"...The Principality of Monaco will be ridiculed..." And I will not achieve this by setting fire to my mattress. In any case, this had been done already! Besides, I am not crazy; I do not want to burn. I can do better than this, much better. And I am ready for it.
I had made up my mind well before this morning. Had I needed this argument to engage in hostilities? No, it was quite simply an altercation from which I am drawing my latest motivation.
A magnetic card opens my cell door. The moment hangs in the air. Heavy footed, I enter this room, which contains nothing personal. My whole life is on the outside; a few scraps of it were stored in a locker after my search. At Monaco's House of Arrest, prisoners enter naked. They are stripped of their clothes, of their memories. No personal effects, trousers, underwear or socks come through these doors as you are incarcerated. There is nothing to cling on to, to survive through the months, the years...
“...Monaco will be ridiculed...” This muffled moment of anger loops round in my head.
It stems from my desire for freedom, of course. But also from the drive to see the Principality humiliated. Is it worth the risk?
Yet do I have a choice about the answer? If I give up, I have no future. Week after week, my dream, my project, turned into a plan. A meticulously prepared plan.
This is not a trial run. Was this flame lit during the course of my life as an inmate...? Did the spark that lit it come from the man I am today, or the child I was?
Sat on my prison chair, I know that had I not decided to act, I would have succumbed to depression for the first time in my life. My feet are hanging over the abyss. I am already deeply drawn to it, and I have no other choice than to pull myself up. I, Luigi the Italian, have decided not to give up. My eye is keen and my mind is sharp – enough to devise a course of action to nurture my thirst for revenge.
(Non-Monegasque inmates sentenced to more than 6 months do not remain incarcerated in the prison of Monaco. Once sentenced, there are transferred to one of the French prisons.)
A few months back, March 2002.
All I can see is the aged matte paint. On the ground, a layer of rust is eating away at the solid blue of the iron floor. I am sat on a bench, in a cage with a wire netting door. My heart is in my throat. I could almost vomit the little food I gingerly ate this morning, in the stress of my departure. “Hurry up Ciardelli, get in there, so I can search over here...” and other such farewells from the central prison of Arles, which I would have happily done without.
My life as an inmate fits in just a few boxes, stacked in a corner of the penitentiary van. You can accumulate a lot of stuff over years of incarceration. There were also Élise’s letters. My drawings. My poems, which I kept in a well-organised file. I like everything to have its place and right now everything is in disarray. A guard hurriedly conducted a search through it all. Just enough to create chaos and simulate his control over me.
Seeing chaos in my possessions makes me angry. I cannot help it. For years now, I have organised my life inside of nine square metres. Sometimes less. There is a place for everything. It may be the way I keep the only hold I have over my own life. Keeping order in what I can. Being able to bear being a grain of sand in the prison system’s universe. I am aware this is not exactly a great achievement, but I have not seen the light of day for quite some time. For the last eight years my sky has borne the criss-cross mark of barbed wire, or has been lacerated by bars. Eight full years. I know what days and weeks behind bars look like. Before this eternity, there was Italy. Lucca, Modena, Pianosa, near Livorno, to name but a few. It is a long list. I was young. The press called me the Cyrano of Holdups. Need I say more? My features. Perhaps small brown eyes... Or not, depending on what I am plotting. Tall, slim. Though what witnesses often retained from my physique were the fake moustache and quirky hat I sported, which seemed to suck the memory out of them.
- He had a red beret, I’m sure, a lady had said. And he was very polite. He also had a moustache.
It is true that I was always well mannered.
Robbing does not mean having to resort to violence, and I have never killed anyone. I did not want to end up in prison for murder. In any case, murderer or not, the Italian justice was after me. I chose freedom and avanti la Francia. I was on the run from Italy, and as I had to make a living, I robbed again! I knew nothing else but to rob; I never had done. Time was closing in on me. Four armed robberies in three days. In Menton, Nice... And I hung around Monaco a little. I skimmed all the rich towns. Alas, my plan to fill my pockets before heading to Spain is thwarted one September day, when a cop looking like he came straight out of a Belmondo movie arrests me in the middle of the Promenade des Anglais. I was arrested, sentenced, and France truly made me pay. I was sentenced to four years for drug trafficking, which was not in effect trafficking but more like a few exchanges of merchandise - a little cocaine in payment for a hotel room. It works even in the better establishments. My own bank card, in case of shortages. To these four years are added another eight for robbery. And so it added up! Twelve years to pay, eight of which at the expense of the government. Alas, justice and I already had some debts to settle. There were also eight years to serve in my native country, Italy. The 20-year mark was thus reached - the extent of a sentence for murder.
The vehicle slows down and I barely manage to suppress a gag. I hold on so as to be able to focus on a point in front of me, keeping my head up.
In the end, time goes by. We just wait for it to pass and then one day, here it is. We find ourselves in the moment we had been waiting for. I had been thinking about Italy for years, hoping to return. Time had slowed down since the court of Aix-en-Provence had signed the extradition agreement. And then finally the moment came, Andiamo, Luigi! Andiare in Italia.
I am suffocating in the searing heat of my confine. The layer of rust is changing shape under the sweat running from my eyes, clouding my vision. We have been driving for at least two hours. Suddenly, the van’s sirens start blaring. We are most probably in Marseille. As usual, traffic is crippling the city. In fits of stops and starts, we reach the hill leading up to Les Baumettes’ prison. A few more bends, and I know this will be my last stop in a French prison. It makes me feel something. Albeit not joy, nor melancholy. Far from it. Something akin to the effect of a page turned, leaving a hundred chapters behind. A slice of my life, eight years thick.
I know this grey building, its stones stigmatized by the impact of German bullets. A souvenir of the bodies that succumbed, lifeless, against the walls. From inside the metal walls of the van I can imagine the sculptures of the seven cardinal sins, installed before the war in homage to the old myth that sins can be redeemed with prayer, isolation and work. Such conceit... And such contrast with its blackened cells, never repainted. The sound of voices coming from the window of a cell, calling out to another set of bars. The suffocating heat. The throngs of more than a thousand inmates in the punishment factory.
I have known many prisons, many cells; they wore my life out, day after day, month after month. Today I am just a drop-off. I wait for my Cerberus to come feed me, in a cell sullied by the dirt of all the world’s misery. I dare not sit on the worn out mattress. There is no chair. Just the bars on the widow, and a bed. Finally, I hear the sound of a key turning in the lock. The door opens to reveal a heavy man, with a worn out look. The grey walls affect one and all. I smooth my jeans with my hand, as if to smooth out the creases on his face.
- Let’s go, says the fat guard.
At the Registry I am assigned to new guards for the journey. I am handed from the Penitentiary Police to the French Police. Navy blue uniforms, light shirts. A tall guy with a grey goatee, a round shaved head; and a scrawny one, floating inside his uniform.
- Your hands, please, says Goatee. In the back, please.
I hold my words back. Arguing is futile, my hands will be cuffed from the back and that is that. The journey will not be comfortable. The scrawny one holds a file in his hands. I am guessing it contains a black on white list of my accomplishments. No risks are to be taken during this transfer.
- Is this okay? asks the policeman. Is it not hurting you?
- I’ll be fine.
It will have to do. I have no choice. I am getting a taste of what awaits me as we leave the men’s building, flanked by Scrawny and Goatee. Out to the grand courtyard, with its small paving stones. The gate is an immense iron structure that does not lend itself to imagining a high-speed start. My hands cuffed in my back, I am led to a Ford Galaxy. At least it is not a paddy wagon anymore. A third cop is driving, same uniform, same dour expression. I am placed in the back, on the passenger side. In case I thought about head butting the driver. Goatee sits on my left.
The car starts. As the engine roars, I start to feel better. These hours spent at Les Baumettes had reawakened my anxiety. I have no reason to fret, although with penitentiary police, you never know what might be. I am well aware of what this administration is capable of. Over the last few months, I had had a sense of foreboding. I had learnt that prison is all about deceit! The guard, the director, the educator... They all tried to reassure me. “Don’t worry Mr Ciardelli, you will be transferred, Mr Ciardelli.” And each, in turn, to explain what I already know - the court of Aix-en-Provence has signed the extradition agreement between France and Italy.
I blame these concerns on my past experiences. Alas, I have already been far too familiar with so-called penitentiary tourism. I was never pre-warned, of course. Incarcerated in Nice, judged and sentenced, I was to be transferred to Arles. Yet I ended up in Les Baumettes. This mistake took a year to fix. By the sea, by the abyss. A dilapidated prison, so dirty you want to die. A horrid stench. Screaming with the yells of its inmates. I battled against the squalor in my own way, scrubbing and tidying my few possessions in an obsessive manner. Finally, after sending a few letters to the Registry, the “error” was examined and I earned the right to leave one of the most sordid of prisons. Though nothing is simple in this obscure world and I ended up in the prison of Grasse. Now this detention house had nothing of the offhand character of the south of France. Indeed this city is located in the south, but there it was a different story. The sun was not to mollify the spirit – rigour was of the essence... “Prison means being deprived of the liberty to come and go and nothing else,” had said Giscard d’Estaing in the seventies. Though the director of Grasse had different ideas. He wished to hold on to past times and prevent these terrible threats of humanization from passing the walls of French prisons. Discipline was the watchword, and the prison was run by this principle. The personnel were “managed” rather than guided, which rendered them guileful and inhumane. So yes, I fretted. They were capable of sending me God knows where.
I also have a Damocles sword above my head - Monaco, and an old non-renewed wanted notice forgotten in a drawer somewhere.
The Ford left the windy road of Mazargues. Les Baumettes and its sinister walls were behind me, and I found a certain peace. From this new car, I can see the way to Morgiou, descending from Mazargues all the way to Boulevard Michelet, in Castellane.
The driver throws the car into the city of Marseille’s usual rough traffic, then on to the motorway towards Toulon. The cops exchange a few words, a few sentences here and there. Every so often Goatee looks at me, from my left. With a nod, he even enquires about my shoulders. “I’m okay”, I reply. Soon I will be breathing the air of my home country. A little voice in my head whispers, “It’s not freedom waiting for you, Luigi, but the Casa Circondariale di Saluzzo in Italy”. “I don’t care”, I reply. I will soon be paying my last debt and this is priceless.
Above all, I am going home. Close to my brother too.
Goodbye, France! France is handing me over to Italy. What a gift!
We are slowing down again. There are building sites all around Toulon. My back and elbows are aching. We reach the motorway. A blue road sign announces “Draguignan-Nice”. Within an hour’s drive at good speed, the sea appears. I can finally glimpse its blue waters, after all these months facing prison walls. The sea brings back so many memories. My arms stretched behind me, I wedge myself against the back of the seat to be able to look at it a little longer. A kid from Viareggio... The smell of iodine mixes with that of the maritime pines and of the vineyards warmed by the sun. My childhood... The Mediterranean... How I have missed this water!
Juan-Les-Pins, Antibes. In the midst of the luxuriant landscapes shimmering in the sun, money is displaying its power in the form of imposing luxury cars and four-star hotels. The driver is speaking. He has a smoker’s voice. He does not like the South of France, especially the coast. Too much money, he declares. And not always clean, he adds. On my left, Goatee agrees. It is true that a policeman’s salary is not sufficient for living in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. I want to throw their misery back in their faces, but I hold back. I do not fancy finishing my ride with three angry cops. We reach Nice at last, with its yellow and pink tower blocks. Sunlight pierces through shutters bearing the colours of Italy. My heart starts to beat louder as I am getting closer to my homeland. “Still, it’s beautiful”, Scrawny says, and the others begrudgingly nod in agreement. On the Promenade des Anglais, hordes of scooters are negotiating their way between the cars in single file. A woman crosses the street. A child is running, ball in hand; life is taking its course. The life I stepped out of many years ago already.
The sea appears again. St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. A raw light under a cloudless sky. The scent of the pines. Beaulieu. We are approaching the border. Another half an hour, I believe, if the driver keeps on driving with his foot to the floor. We drive through a succession of tunnels. Tunnel du Paillon, Tunnel du Rosti. Suddenly, silence reigns in the car.
I am worried. Something is wrong. I cannot put my finger on it. The three men had barely been speaking, but they did speak. Now all of a sudden, no more comments about rich people, about luxury cars or shop signs. Something is wrong... But I cannot put my finger on it. Is it the policemen, a little too stiff against their seats? Is it Scrawny in the front, running his hands through his greying hair like a nervous tic? Is it the driver, who is reducing the speed of the Galaxy? The A56 signs to Monaco, Cap-d’Ail and Beausoleil are causing me to worry. What does this mean? I am thrown into the shadows of my own fears as we enter yet another tunnel, as for all intents and purposes we are deviating from the supposed itinerary. The car is heading towards the exit of La Turbie, and my worry turns into a suffocating weight on my chest.
We are in Beausoleil and I see Monaco, riddled with towers, stretching across the sea. Inevitably, I descend towards Monaco. I know the drill well enough not to hope for a cigarette break from the officers.
What are we doing here?
I am not even thinking anymore, I am just staring at the Rock, split open by a smooth road with pink pavements. Then, “Monaco” appears black on white above a thirty kilometre per hour speed limit traffic sign and a parking prohibition sign - under penalty of impoundment. Between the two, a “Munegu” road sign. Seeing the Monaco sign in the Monegasque language brings back memories of the large banners of football fans - Daghe Munegu, deo juvante, La Exotique - floating in the wind. The car emerges from the shadows and starts to snake around tight bends. I catch a glimpse of “Boulevard du Jardin Exotique”. Everything is going so fast, despite the car driving under fifty kilometres per hour. I could ask what we are doing here - why Monaco? So many questions... But I do not want to. I do not have the courage to hear the answer to my questions. My anguish is too strong. Insidiously, Monte Cristo’s character invites himself in the midst of my fears. Is the sea responsible for these images of Edmond Dantès? I remain silent. My eyes remain vigilant.
What I can be certain of is that my life is toppling down as we descend towards the centre of Monaco. The future was not supposed to be unfolding here. The car should be heading towards the border. Why? Why are we driving down this road?
Flowers in planters. White. A lot of white. Pink pavements and a cloudless blue sky. Everything mixes up in my head. Enough to lose my footing. One step into insanity.
I am hanging on. I am fighting it. I bounce off an emotion welling inside of me, and I hang on tight. It is violent, red, like fire. Rage is preventing me from losing myself completely.
The car slows down. Conveniently, there is a free space.
The motor has barely been cut off that a long dark coloured sedan pulls up very close to the Galaxy. It has black tinted windows and I cannot make out the faces inside. Two doors open. I can see trouser legs through the door facing me. Two men in black suits. Thin ties. Goatee glances at me coldly and steps out of the car. He walks over to the two men dressed like FBI agents. The three men shake hands.
On a signal from Goatee, his partner and the scrawny one pull me out of the car.
- Mr Ciardelli, you have reached your destination! We are swapping vehicles.
You have reached your destination - you bastard, I tell myself. Ha! Does playing your dirty trick on me make you hard, you schmuck? Lucky for you, I am cuffed with my hands behind my back, with no other option than to turn the other cheek.
- I knew it, I said, I knew it! I never trusted your phony mugs, I belch as I step out of the car.
I set one foot on Monegasque soil. Then the other. I am cornered. I have no escape.
- Mr Ciardelli, says one of the suited men. Agent Cataluna, Interpol, National Central Bureau of Monaco.
- Agent Delaneaux, says the other.
Already tight against my wrists, the handcuffs in my back feel like they have just tightened again.
- You are in the Principality of Monaco. We have been waiting for you for some time.
French cops are such hypocrites. And alongside them so are all the educators, prison directors and guards of Arles and Les Baumettes. They are nothing but Tartuffes in uniforms! I choke on my own anger as a black van pulls up and vomits a dozen armed men. Machine guns hanging from their necks, bulletproof vests, guns and knives on their belts. Caps with black visors. Mannequins with no faces are deploying around us in an almighty military action.
A man walks by, looking bewildered.
- Nothing to worry about, we are shooting a movie, I tell him. I regain my composure as I hear my own voice.
My eyes gaze into those of these wannabe FBI agents.
- Yes, cazzon! I am on your territory... But by your will. Not mine.
I can feel one of the French officers removing the handcuffs behind me. Which of these three deceitful hypocrites is it? It is out of the question to turn around and see his rat face, and in any case my wrists are immediately wrapped with metal again. Although with Monegasque steel this time! In the middle of all these cops, themselves circled by the black hooded officers, I allow myself to be pulled towards the black sedan.
- Even Toto Riina didn’t warrant such a deployment of forces, I told them. But in Monaco you have no idea how to do things with sobriety!
- You are a strange character so we don’t trust you, that’s all, replies Interpol. Your file speaks for itself.
My anger is cold, and yet it nearly makes me smile. I can hear the French men laugh. “A five-star prison”, says one of them. “Goodbye, rotten overcrowded cells”, sniggers another, while the Monegasque cop opens the boot of his car and pulls out a black leather briefcase.
- This is Monaco’s justice! It fits in a briefcase, I announced.
His already cold face freezes. He pulls out a few sheets of paper, which he proceeds to read as if he had just discovered them.
- Mr Ciardelli, you are on Monegasque territory. I am handing you an international arrest warrant for armed robbery, perpetrated in Monaco in 1994.
I reply immediately.
- I am on Monegasque territory because you have brought me here, I retort. From this moment on, I shall declare myself an abductee. And this is what I will tell the judge, my consulate, and everyone I meet from the present moment on. A decision by the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence states and orders that I am to be placed in the hands of Italian justice. You are disregarding a French court order. Speak of lawfulness! You make me laugh. International agreements between nations... It is not...
- Calm down, Mr Ciardelli. There is no need to get carried away.
- I am not getting carried away, I am just making myself clear! You are acting unlawfully, though it’s only natural as this Principality is nothing but an old pirate fortress!
- We have good relations with France, replies the Monegasque. Sign here, he insists.
- Absolutely not, I snap. I will not sign anything!
- You will only aggravate your case.
- I will not aggravate anything. I am at war with Monaco... I’ll sign my name when this movie comes to an end. We’ll see what happens.
- You’re a thief, Mr Ciardelli, I suggest you do not forget this.
- Okay, so I am an outlaw. However, I’m not the one who will aggravate their situation but rather the Principality of Monaco. I will get out of this unfortunate abduction situation. In the meantime, close your briefcase and take me to the prison.
- No, first you will be taken to the Courthouse, where Monsieur Deville is waiting for you for questioning.
- Of course, in Monaco, justice is more inclined to catch thieves than to go after dirty money. So let’s go and pay this gentleman a visit. He can be the first to hear my version of the facts.
The Monegasque think they are Italians, I thought in my angry fog, but they do not measure up to Firenze. The Courthouse’s windows, the bulletproof stained-glass panels and the stones are but a pale copy of Florentine palaces. Steps bordered by stone banisters stretching towards the porch lead up to the Courthouse. The pediment, grandiloquent underneath the porch and its columns, points towards the double-glazed stained-glass window.
I am not given the honour of being introduced through the main entrance. I am let in through the car park and the service door. Discreetly.
Briefcase in hand, a suit walks ahead, flanked by his henchman. The hooded crew is circling me, right behind them. If my head was not so firmly screwed on, I could easily lose all notion of modesty. Emblems of an era of the enduring and eternal monarchy can be seen all over the first and second floors. We climb more stairs, leading to a less luxurious corridor. This floor is not made of marble. There are benches against the wall.
A plaque reads “Monsieur Deville. Investigating Magistrate”.
I leave my guard dogs in the corridor and enter the office with the suits. A man sits behind the office. He is young, although he appears much older than he really is. My flair immediately springs into action. This judge exudes malaise.
- Here, Mr Justice, says the cop opening the briefcase. He hasn’t signed anything.
- I only sign my own crimes, I snap, not the crimes of others.
- Hello, Mr Ciardelli. Please do sit down.
He smiles. I smile back. We both size each other up.
- Remove his handcuffs, gentlemen. Thank you. You may leave us.
The door closes. I am alone with the judge and a woman sat in the right corner of the room.
- Would you like a coffee? asks the judge.
- No thank you, I’d rather an Italian coffee. I’d prefer a glass of water, I soften up.
I move my pawn forward.
I can hear the rustling of fabric behind me. It comes from the woman, blond hair down to her shoulders, plunging neckline, short skirt and stilettos. She hands me a glass of water. Black ankle boots on stiletto heels. I have been incarcerated for eight years already...
- So, the judge resumes with a smile full of complicity, after your stays in Italian and French prisons, we finally have you in the Principality!
- Mr Justice, I am in Monaco because I am victim of abduction. I left France this morning to be handed over to my homeland’s authorities, as French justice ordered it, black on white, in an extradition treaty between the two countries. But I see that Monaco does not seem to care! Your arrest warrant has been null and void for years! It was never renewed with French authorities... Italy has renewed theirs, but you have not done so since 1994!
- We have a good rapport with France, he jokes, as you have seen this morning. But excuse me, Mr Ciardelli, what I am interested in is your 1994 holdup.
- Very well, I say. I will answer. But I want my full declaration to be on record. Starting with the fact that I have been abducted and sequestrated arbitrarily in Monaco, I continue, raising my voice. Besides, this is what I will tell my consulate. I also wish to state that each day spent on your territory shall be deducted from my Italian sentence.
- Mr Ciardelli, you seem to be indeed very knowledgeable regarding these matters. But as I have told you, my work simply consists in investigating a holdup perpetrated in Monaco in September 1994. Nothing more. Do you wish to respond to the charges?
- I do. But have you written everything I have just told you?
- My secretary has done.
I turn towards the pretty blond. She points at the screen with a chilli red nail.
- Very well, I say. Then I will speak.
I mark a pause.
- I am innocent. I never perpetrated a holdup in Monaco. Not a single one. Besides, only a madman would do such a thing in Monaco. Everything is under surveillance here. There are cameras everywhere, and you have the best police in the world. A madman, Mr Justice, and I don’t believe I am mad.
Monsieur Deville looks at me. He exudes this malaise again, like a worker deprived of his tools. He seems to doubt of his own power in the Monegasque justice system, and to wonder what kind of ejection seat is he sitting on.
- No, I am not mad, I continued. You are speaking of August 1994, and at this time I was in France. Wanted by Italy. I was living on the coast, near Menton, and I was getting ready to leave for Spain. So I had planned a few small thefts, to cover my costs. I was arrested in France and I have paid for this. And just because the press’s accusations pointed to The Cyrano of Holdups does not make me guilty. As far as I know I am not the only man to have a nose!
- You are saying you were making plans to leave France, asks the judge, where did you live?
- In hotels, one of which was near Monaco. As I have mentioned during the international investigation with the judge from Nice. In Beausoleil - the side adjacent to Monaco. I cannot remember the name but at the time I gave it to the investigators.
- Yes, we looked into this. It was hotel...well I cannot remember the name either. But it doesn’t matter. So, you slept there for two nights and then you walked around in Monaco?
- I strolled around. In the port, Place du Casino. Oh, and in the Albert Premier garden. In fact, I was sorting my luggage out, so I went to the cleaner’s, and to a perfumery too. I ate at restaurants in Nice or Menton. I went to a party on Avenue des Spélugues, in the restaurant, on the right. Near the tunnel used during the Grand Prix.
- I’d go to Monaco to relax, not to plan crimes. Besides, I’d visited Monaco just a few months before. I went to a club that Caroline, Albert and Stéphanie used to frequent. Such drunken nights out! But it was all just for fun. I also went to Milady’s, a private club, frequented by beautiful women - not by the mafia or criminals.