The prisoners were each fastened to one of the poles, the bells rang another three times, and the crowd cheered again. The church doors opened, and a procession of 12 priests in blue cassocks emerged, led by the elderly bishop in his vestments and mitre. After the bishop said a benediction, one of the priests stepped forward and read expressionless from a parchment scroll. Amadeo translated.
“These men and women stand convicted of the crimes of concealment of de Proculo blood and conspiring to restore the tyranny of their criminal family, having done so in the full knowledge that the penalty for these acts is death. May God have mercy on their souls.”
The officers doused the prisoners in kerosene. I heard their screams only briefly as the flames consumed them because the crowd’s cheers had drowned them out. Even in my years as a crime reporter, I had never actually seen someone die, let alone in such a hideous and degrading manner. I found a trash can nearby and vomited into it.
“You are the only living person in this world with de Proculo blood,” Amadeo mumbled, handing me a handkerchief while a man and woman in their 30s walked by and laughed as they imitated the screams of the convicted.
This world’s need for change seemed to outweigh the way he had persuaded me to come to it.
Clemente had paid the tailor extra to rush my suit, and we picked it up later in the afternoon. I admit the new look went a great length to improve my mood: black morning coat, black waistcoat and striped gray trousers with a black ascot.
The next morning, the three of us drove to the capital, also known as Stagno, about 50 kilometers away.
Whereas Ragusa was a fairly large city, Stagno was no larger than a small town or village, on the shore at the foot of two large hills. We stopped on the outskirts, met by two military transport vehicles and several police cars, before proceeding to the Signoria.
“Why is the military here?” I asked, sitting forward in my seat for a closer look.
“We try of course to do without violence. That is what we prefer,” Amadeo replied.
The building where the Signoria met was a large Renaissance-era palace behind a stone wall and garden with hedgerows, a sign outside reading “Palazzo de 20.VIII.1623.” Above the entrance to the building was a large stone heraldic achievement with the same coat of arms as Amadeo’s lapel pin – a striped shield containing three crowned leopard heads in inverted triangular formation, topped with a knight’s helmet and flanked by mantling. Atop the building was the national flag, with nine blue and gold stripes and the three crowned leopard heads, in black.
The guards – wearing blue and gold uniforms reminiscent of the Vatican Swiss Guards, complete with morion helmets – opened the gates for us and the soldiers without any exchange of words, nodding their heads as we drove in, while the guards posted at the door likewise opened the doors.
We walked up a staircase in the atrium to a balcony overlooking where the Signoria met, a barrel-vaulted hall with a wood interior and banks of seats on either side of a navy blue carpet, filled with about 60 men dressed identically to us. A man in his 70s in a purple, tasseled silk robe embroidered with gold – undoubtedly the Rector – sat on an ornately carved wooden throne flanked by two guards with halberds.
One of the members of the Signoria paced back and forth on the carpet speaking as the Rector stared on looking half asleep. Amadeo, standing at the edge of the balcony, bowed his head, and the guards stuck the Rector in each side with their halberds.
The man who had been speaking turned around startled as the Rector screamed and fell to the ground, a pool of blood forming around him and the guards holding out their halberds, ready to strike. He turned around, looked up and began screaming angrily while pointing at Amadeo, falling to the ground as a soldier shot him and several others who had reacted the same way.
Soon, they all fell silent and took their seats, staring up in terror.
Clemente began to walk forward, pulling several folded sheets of paper out of his pocket, but his confident smile gave way to shock as Raffaele pulled out a handgun and pointed it at his midsection, looking him in the eye and shaking his head.
Amadeo began speaking in Dalmatian, with Raffaele translating for me:
Men of the Signoria, for centuries you have told the lie that the House of de Proculo was our enemy, murdering countless innocents for supposedly concealing de Proculo blood in order to hide your own corruption and decadence.
He then motioned for us to come forward.
Here, I have a descendant of the de Proculos whom you would have sent someone to another world to kill just to hide your secrets. But today, your corruption and the misery it has created will stop. And we will restore to our republic the greatness that you have stolen from it.
He turned his head and nodded at one of the soldiers, who stepped forward with his assault rifle and began shooting, as shots came from the doorway underneath the balcony. They didn’t stop until every member lay dead.
“Che stai facendo?” Clemente hissed, before Raffaele shot him in the face.
I would have expected to faint after witnessing such a spectacle, but somehow my mind made it as if I had imagined it all. As we emerged from the building, the heat of the sun still hit my face, birds still chirped in the trees, and the wind’s gentle whisper passed through the leaves.
It was when I sat in the leather seat of the San Giorgio that an uncontrollable tremor overtook me. I almost asked if Clemente planned to ride with someone else when Raffaele got in the driver’s seat and Amadeo sat in the seat next to mine and closed the door.
As we left the gate, Amadeo turned to me, smiling like a child at an amusement park.
I flashed half a smile and turned my head back toward the front of the car, staring at the street’s center line. Still shaking.
“Soon, our nation will return to greatness,” he assured me.