A history I made up – Words by Guido
the enemies = natural elements
the armoured car = a snowplow
the bag’s contents = the secret of life
“hey my friend, I need a man for a job this summer”
“uhm ok JC, what’s the program?”
“let’s have a sour and I’ll tell you all the details”
Sour, sour means vodka and vodka means Zinc, the dear old JC, still using the same code from the early 90s. And there he was, some years passed, you can spot it on his face but he’s still the same, still wearing a red wool hat, still holding a pipe in is mouth, still looking exactly like a young Jaques Cousteau. That’s why everyone knows him as JC.
“So JC what’s the program?”
“Going to Ventimiglia from Cuneo through France”
“Are you inviting me on a vacation?”
“Well if you want to see it as a vacation it’s up to you, but is not actually.”
“I see, what’s the job then?”
“Uhm, delivery what?”
“I can’t tell you that, to be true I don’t know either…”
“I guess you can’t even tell me who’s asking for this special service”
“You’re right. I can only tell you is well paid”
“Fair enough. How do we get there?”
“Oh that’s the point, we’re going there by bike.”
“JC you know I don’t like motorbikes”
“I know_ he replied smiling for the first time in the night with the pipe swinging at the corner of his lips_ that’s why we are going by bicycle.”
Pictures by Frank
That’s basically why I’m on a train on the way to Cuneo all dressed up as a cyclist, with a fancy bike JC procured me, together with him and another guy I never met before that JC introduced to me simply as the dentist adding “he’s the technology guy we need” before I could even think about complaining. Even if I completely trust JC, I’m kind of nervous, I don’t know what we are carrying around and who will be the beneficiary, while the dentist is just taking pictures and typing like crazy on his cell phone. When he goes to the toilet I quickly ask JC if the guy is ok and reliable.
“No worries.” he replies.
_Ok_ I think and keep on pretending to sleep.
In Cuneo we set our bikes and I realize JC have chosen a single speed one for me
“Are you joking?” I say pointing at the rear wheel
“Listen Gazza, there are people that would kill to have a ride on that bike, so would you be so kind to shut up and pack your stuff?”
When it comes to trends is better to not discuss with JC, even more if it’s using some old nick names coming from our previous life, so I shut up and keep on packing. Meanwhile the dentist is taking pictures of the train station.
After 30ish something km we are in Limone, the end of day one, JC drive us to a nice hotel where the owner gives us a room without asking too many questions. At sunset we are back on the road searching for something to eat and we end up in a pizzeria furnished just like any other mountain place would be: wood all over. We sit down and order something, after ten minutes three blonde guys show up and sit down two tables away from us, they might be German or Russian but I can’t really understand a single word. I’m in alert, JC looks relaxed but the dentist is not really at ease. After the waiter gives us the pizzas and leave, JC simply says “Relax Dent, we don’t have to be concerned by the Flemish”. Ok, Flemish, that’s why I can’t get any german or russian, noted. Even if we may not be concerned those guys are just suspiciously looking at us. But the dinner is over and we fly away.
Well fed we go back to the hotel and finally JC displays a map and reveals the plan, which is not too different from the one he explained me that night at Zinc, we are going to Ventimiglia trough France, cycling on the path known as Via del Sale.
“We may find some surprise over there” I realize I’m hearing the dentist voice for the first time, is a sharp voice with no recognizable inflection.
“I know_ says JC _ that’s why you guys are here with me”
Pictures by Guido
Day two. We are climbing the Colle di Tenda on the italian side, I’m swearing at JC for giving me a singlespeed bike while the dentist is on a full geared one and has plenty of time to stop taking pictures and using his phone. I’m still not convinced by this guy, it looks weird but sometimes familiar, he gives me those feelings I usually have with the dudes of counter-espionage, JC is looking at me and probably spots my worries since he says once again “Dent is ok, think about cycling, you look a bit weary”
_Oh well maybe because you gave me a bloody singlespeed bike_ I think by myself just because I have no more air in my lungs to say it loudly and, once again JC read me like an open book
“The bike is fine, you’re just out of shape man.”
Few meters up the dentist is waiting for us and as soon as we approach he places his pointer in front of his mouth telling us to shut up, from somewhere he produce a binocular and pass it to JC which peeps inside it and passes it to me. On the other side of the optics two guys and their motorbikes are stopped in the middle of the road.
“Tourists.” states JC
“Mmm, not sure about that” replies the dentist “but I think I can figure it out.” he leaves before ending the phrase while we are waiting in the bushes on the side of the road.
“We should have brought some weapons.” I say
“We won’t need any weapon and just in case…” JC replies while pulling out his Beretta 92fs
“Ah the old Berry, so apparently I’m the one who don’t need a gun isn’t it?”
“Oh come on Gazza, you don’t like to play the cowboy role and I’m pretty sure you have your old fashioned Glock with you”
Once again he was right.
While we are having this nuptial discussion the dentist reaches the two guys, in two minutes he gives us the signal everything is ok by touching is helmet with the left hand.
“Are you sure that guy is not from the counter-espionage?” I ask frankly to JC
“Well, he shouldn’t, but I’m not 100% sure.” he replies and jumps back on the bike.
Not 100% sure in JC language means almost the opposite. So I’m about to leave Italy with some bags full of something, a shady guy and a counter-espionage agent.
At the top of the hill JC stops and starts dialling on his cell phone, me and the dentist take advantage of it and eat something, JC is now talking on the phone, the wind is rising and I can’t get a single word. He hangs up and comes towards us
“Guys: bad news, the French Gendarmerie is waiting for us a few kms ahead.”
“Oh perfect!” I say
“Bullshit.” says sharply the dentist. JC, for the first time, looks a bit confused
“I don’t know where you get your infos from, Cecco, but I can tell you that on the south side we will have no problem with any kind of police and, if you don’t mind, stop to rely on those guys you’re in contact with.”
_Now things are getting interesting_ I think, and then loudly I add “By the way who the fuck is Cecco?”
“Drop it.” says JC with a icy look and then with a honeyed voice “Ok Dent, you’re the expert, if you say there will be no police I trust you, let’s go.”
A couple of kms ahead we stop after catching sight of a small French police patrol. La Gendarmerie.
“No copZ eh?” I murmur to no one specifically, the dentist looks surprised while JC is almost happy he was right.
“Well that’s where we have to go so I guess we should find some way to bypass them.” the dentist says, while looking at the map and taking some pictures, again. Despite his behaviour I like his practical and direct approach to problems.
“Ok, we can leave the path here and cut down towards that stony ground trying to hide between the rocks” I propose “then rejoin it after the turn, this way they won’t spot us… hopefully.”
JC agrees straight away while the dentist is more doubtful. But after a few seconds we are leaving, pointing down between the rocks.
If cycling was hard this thing is even harder, whatever we are carrying around it’s really heavy. Twenty minutes later, we are back on the track with the gendarmerie still stopped in their dull position.
We keep on cycling for another couple of km and then reach a fortress built by some crazy guys in some dark times, war makes people doing some really no sense things. We cross a ridge while the clouds are wrapping around the mountains, we can hardly see 10 m away from us. In the white vacuum we see something blinking; the dentist, first of the line, suddenly stops and crouches down, we do the same. Once again he pulls out his binocular and starts looking trough the fog.
“Damn!” he whispers while passing the binocular to JC
“Fuck!” says JC passing the binocular to me
What I see trough the lenses is a solid formation of mean looking guys holding AK-47
“Russians, I suppose.”
“I think so _ murmurs JC _ fuck, we are stucked!”
“My friend, don’t despair, I have THE solution” says gently the dentist while pulling out a grey brick of something I suddenly recognise as C4
“Are you crazy?!” both JC and I say in unison
“Hell no!” the dentist says, surprised and a bit irritated
“First of all how can you place that thing near those gentlemen? And how do you think the French gendarmerie we just passed a few minutes away will react? Voilà les feu d’artifice?” JC is getting nervous.
“That’s true Dent, I do love C4 as well but this is not the best option” I say
The dentist looks disappointed while is still holding the C4 like a puppy, then a glimmer of smile appears on his face “You guys are right, better find another solution.”
A few minutes later we are retracing our way back, avoiding again the gendarmerie and pointing down to the bottom of the valley. We have no plan B and we are in an unfriendly territory. We reach the town of Tenda at sunset, no one is around and we decide to enter in a bar to have a Pastis and figure out our next move. While entering, JC says to me “Now is your turn, monsieur Gazza, let me see how your french is going and remember we are just some nice cycle-tourist visiting France for the weekend”. Noted. Sometimes the simplest plan is the most effective and that’s why a few seconds later I’m asking at the barman were three innocent Italian cyclist can find a good place to rest. The destination is the Hotel du Centre, where we are welcomed by an old lady and her husband.
“Yes we do have a triple room, yes we do have wi-fi, yes we do include breakfast” perfect so far “May I have your documents?” Shit, while I’m thinking about how stupid I was when I decided not to take one of my fake ID, JC pulls out a complete set of Italian passports and handles it to the lady adding “Pour vous, madame.” like a real gentleman. I’m surprised and so is the dentist, JC looks satisfied and says loudly “You guys forgot I had your passports with me?”
In the room we make the plan for the day after, the dentist is working hard on the map and on his cell phone while me and JC are gathering information from our French whistles using the public phone in the hotel hall.
At 10 pm the B plan is ready, we will follow the Levenza river up to one point then veer right towards the route de l’amitiè path in order to get to the italian border nearby Tete de la Nava peaks. All the informations we collect say there will be no problems of any kind going that way. We are encouraged but not 100% relaxed and the night passes almost sleepless for the three of us.
Pictures by Ok Fede
Day three. We leave the hotel early in the morning, I go personally at the reception to get back the passports and I realize that JC did a really good job with those counterfeits, I wonder where he got my picture from, this guy has unlimited resources. At 8 am while the valley is still waking up we are leaving the Levenza bank heading into a dark pine forest. The day runs smoothly, too smoothly… As we reach the border we get more confident about the result of our expedition, no gendarmerie so far, no tough guys with AKs. The weather changes again, clouds are coming up from the valley and the visibility drops down. I’m in front of the group, trying to focus on the road and feeling safe. Feeling safe in this job is never good but sometimes I just forgive this and I shouldn’t. After a turn I almost bump in a group of three guys wearing leather jackets and, yes, holding AKs, I just have the time to throw myself into the ditch running parallel to the road as they start to shoot: all I can hear are the gun shots over me and people yelling in an unknown language. I take my Glock and try to breathe. Meanwhile JC and the dentist are somewhere behind, I can’t see them but I recognize the typical sound of JC’s Beretta. Seconds pass as ages, the fire line is not pointing toward me anymore so I raise and start shooting to some vague figure in the fog. I hit somebody and see him falling at the ground; I can count seven more guys and a Audi, before hiding back on the ditch.
_Fuck, it’s over_ I think _No way we’re gonna make it with our fancy handguns, it was such a foolish idea to follow JC, why I did it? _ I’m whispering my last wishes while holding my Glock and thinking about some verses of De Andrè song La guerra di Piero when I heard the sound of a diesel engine together with the crackling of a submachine gun and a sound similar to a flame thrower deep puff. In a minute everything is silent.
_I must be dead and this place looking like a foggy forest must be Hell_ but no, I’m alive and unharmed, I raise from the ditch to peep and I see a armoured car in the middle of the road with a bunch of bodies in front of it.
“Jesus God, you were late!” this is the voice of JC coming from somewhere in the woods, one second after from the top of the car a guy with the sun tanned face appears
“Sorry JC, I couldn’t find the way, are you guys ok?”
Apparently our beloved JC had the good idea to call the reinforcement at some point during the previous night, I stare at him with a big question mark on my face.
“I didn’t want to alarm you guys” he replies while lighting up his pipe “but I knew that we would have had some surprises after crossing the border, that’s why I called Ugo” pointing at the guy on top of the armoured car. I’m still shaking and even the dentist isn’t looking good. Meanwhile, Ugo is working hard extinguishing the fire coming from the carcass of the Audi.
“The good news, beside the one that we are still alive, is that from now on there will be no more problems, am I right Ugo?”
“Yes you are JC!”
That is true, our final part of the trip runs quietly, we even have the time to experience some real cycling problem with the failure of the disc brakes of the dentist’s bike. What a strange situation, three cyclists fixing a bike with a tank stopped on the side of the road.
We reach Ventimiglia late that afternoon, JC leads us directly to a pizzeria in a small street controlled by some Arab looking guys, I move my hand instinctively to the pocket were my Glock is but JC stops me: “they are friends”, he states while entering the Pizzeria; he exits two minutes later, the bag with the unknown contents is gone and he holds three pints of cold beer.
“Mission accomplished guys!”
I’ll never know what we had been carrying around on this two days trip, as far as I know we might have been delivering some special mozzarella di bufala to a pizza guy.