1936 had been a good year for L’impero. The small café had erupted into a full restaurant overnight after years of dormancy. The quaint little establishment had sat in an unpronounced corner of Napoli since 1927. Today, the restaurant was full of hustle and bustle, attracting more than 300 people every day. The restaurant had gained such fortune when the Dopolavoro set its eyes on the place. Augusto D’Azzuro, the proprietor, had been more than happy to take on the fascist baggage in return for the notoriety. Tradition, however, was Augusto’s top priority. L’impero refused to change any recipes or add any strange new dishes to the menu. Augusto was an honest man, and wanted to keep his regular customers happy. He did just that.
Fausto DiSano and Massimo Pacelli were two men that had been customers since the restaurant first opened. They had been best friends from youth. Fausto was older than Massimo by about six years and forty IQ points: he was like a father to Massimo. Fausto was a hard-working farmer and Massimo was a respected business owner; yet the two were almost the same. The two would come to L’impero daily to discuss people, events, ideas, and life itself. Massimo pushed open the door, holding it for a much bigger, slower Fausto. Upon their entry, Augusto waved. Fausto and Massimo returned the favor, making their way to the bar.
L’impero was a beautiful place. The restaurant had exchanged the rustic Italian look for a more modern appeal. The cherry wood bars now shone with laminate, and their glossy intensity lit up the entire restaurant. The bar stretched the entire border of the restaurant, with gaps only for the exit and the kitchen. Black marble enveloped the floor without a single crack or flaw. The cobblestone walls were pristine, not so much as a single speck of dust could be seen on them. A small crystal chandelier hung from the topmost point of the building, creating a bright atmosphere for the entire restaurant. Maple wood tables spotted the establishment in a perfect grid. Small wooden radios on all of the tables softly spoke the same station in perfect synchronization. Gold-framed photographs decorated the walls, alongside Italian flags hung in perfect unison. The smell of sauces and coffee enthralled the nose of anyone who walked within twenty meters of the place, and a small, light-hearted babbling ambience constantly filled the place. Not a single person in the building showed anything but a smile.
“My friends!” Augusto shouted. “How are you today?” Augusto broke into a deep chuckle, and his large nose turned bright red. He was a short man, but more than made up for it with his weight. His hair was snow white and his teeth were the colour of honey. His breath reeked of cigarettes but he loved to smile anyway. Augusto wore a dark vest and white dress shirt. They were tucked neatly into his trousers. Augusto, though he constantly smiled, seemed very uncomfortable, as he was drenched in sweat. He scrubbed furiously at a small stain on a glass with a white rag.
“I am well, Augusto.” Fausto responded. “So is Massimo, I presume.” Fausto’s coarse voice responded with the same friendly tone. “How’s business as a rich man?”
“It’s great, Fausto!” Augusto shouted, with his smile growing even wider. He turned around and began making two coffees for the men. He already knew exactly what they would order. “Did you read the paper today, Massimo?” Augusto asked.
“Not yet, Augusto. I’m supposing you have one?” Massimo smiled weakly.
“As always!” Augusto responded, his red nose growing redder. Augusto placed the two coffees on the bar and reached for a newspaper underneath the counter. Augusto placed it next to the coffees. “Don’t spill anything on it, other people may want to read it!”
“We won’t, Augusto. Thank you.” Fausto laughed as he placed a handful of lira on the counter. Massimo walked over to a barstool facing a window, the same one they would always sit at. Fausto followed shortly behind with the two coffees, placing them down to their drinker respectively. Fausto began to sip at his coffee, but Massimo ignored his and went straight to the newspaper.
“What’s happening in Italy today?” he spoke aloud to himself.
“Italy was declared the most perfect country in the world?” Fausto joked.
“I wouldn’t be surprised.” Massimo commented blankly. “Here’s what Augusto wanted us to see, I’m guessing.” He laid the newspaper out on the counter. “Look at this, Fausto. ‘Jews have become too predominant in the positions of power of countries and are a ‘ferocious’ tribe who seek to ‘totally banish’ Christians from public life.’”.
“Isn’t that a German thing?” Fausto commented.
“I thought so.” Massimo spoke blankly, continuing to read the newspaper. “What’s happening to Italy, Fausto?”
“I’m not sure, but I don’t like it.” Fausto’s face contorted into a look of concern and fear. It was strange to see a man like Fausto feeling concern. To say Fausto was large was an understatement. Fausto stood about six feet tall and was husky enough to fill a doorframe. He was frightening, wearing large coats and hats to add to his size. It wasn’t unusual for Fausto to be confused for a Mafioso. Although he worked in a farm, Fausto made a point to look respectful: he often adorned himself in pea coats and fedoras. He was older than he looked. Though he was only forty, Fausto’s skin was yellowed and wrinkled from years of cigarette smoke and hard labor. Fausto had deep brown hair, but his hairline was receding. His hair was styled into a sloppy comb-over, since it was usually covered with a hat. He had thick eyebrows and strikingly straight sideburns. Fausto had poor posture and hunched over like a child.
“Something should really be done about this. Parliament would never have allowed the squadristi to kill for the sake of imposing their beliefs. This is mad.” Massimo, by comparison to Fausto, was small and youthful. He was a much more average size than Fausto, about five and a half feet tall. He had a much different look than his good friend: His hair was full and curly. His skin was much less wrinkled, and he was thin and scrawny. Massimo had beady eyes and a large nose. Though his job was not laborious like Fausto’s, it was stressful, and Massimo’s eyes drooped as though he were in dire need for some sleep. He wore a simpler coat and dress shirt, with a tie hanging from his neck and black trousers on.
“I agree.” Fausto responded, continuing to sip his coffee. “If people keep standing for this, then Mussolini will have power forever.” He turned to face his friend. “The rest of our lives would be lived in fear. That’s not right.”
“Not right at all.” Massimo repeated, finally sipping his own coffee. Massimo folded up the newspaper. “I’m going to go give this back to Augusto. I’ll be back.” Fausto nodded. As Massimo left, Fausto turned his attention to the window. When L’impero was first established, the corner on which it sat was very dull. Since the Dopolavoro had canonized the place, however, other business began to spring up on the street wildly. The corner was now crowded and busy. Directly outside the window, an elderly man stood on the road with papers in his hand. He was yelling, and Fausto strained to hear his light voice through the window.
“The squadristi are poisoning our minds!” The man yelled, waving papers in the air. “Do you want to know what Mussolini has really been doing? Have you read the Doctrine of Fascism? What happened to democracy? What happened to your rights?” The man screamed wildly, but the crowd around him walked on without looking at him. Occasionally, a passerby would take his pamphlet and shove it in their pocket or glance at it. The old man seemed to be running out of breath. He wore a ratty coat and his pants were old and worn. He wore a plaid shirt underneath his coat. The man wore thick glasses that made his eyes seem twice their regular size, and his grey hair sprung wildly around his head. “Where is democracy? Your voice is disappearing! Mussolini is a liar!”
Massimo sat down again beside Fausto, but Fausto did not look over in his direction. “What are you looking at?” Massimo asked. Fausto pointed to the old man. The two sat in silence for a few minutes listening to the man yell. After about ten minutes, the elderly man was out of breath. He squatted, resting on his knees and wiping sweat from his forehead. A yell came around from the corner.
A man in an official uniform ran around the corner. Along his back read the word ‘Carabinieri’. The old mans countenance became one of fear. “Excuse me, sir.” The officer said in a loud, pronounced voice. “What are you doing?”
The old man hid the papers behind his back and answered nervously. “I don’t know what you’re talking about sir, I’m simply walking.”
“I thought I heard some yelling. Maybe I was mistaken.” The officer said, still speaking loud and forcibly.
“Maybe.” The old man’s voice shook.
“Can I see your hands, sir?” The officer asked. The old man did not respond. Aggravated, the officer stepped forward again. “Let me see your hands.” The old man brought his hands forward, letting go of the papers he previously held. They flew wildly. The officer stomped and caught one under his foot. He picked it up slowly. The old man’s face was red and he was biting his lower lip. “This looks like an article, sir.” The officer said to him. “Do you have a journalism license?” The officer took another step toward the old man.
“No sir.” The old man stammered. “I- I’m waiting for mine to arrive. I applied for it, they said it was alright.” The old mans words were becoming less audible.
“I don’t like being lied to.” The officer stated with a stern intonation. “That isn’t how a license works. You’re under arrest.”
“Arrest!” the old man cried out. “No! I did not do anything!”
“You are publishing without a license.” The officer’s face was stone.
“No! I did not do anything! You can’t arrest me!” The old man flailed his arms wildly.
“You have one more chance to stand down. You are under arrest.” The officer’s look slowly became annoyed with the old man.
“No!” The old man spat at the officers feet. Not missing a beat, the officer wound back a fist and hit the old man. He fell to the ground and his glasses flew a few feet away. The officer pulled out a baton and began to hit the old man on the back, who curled into a ball.
“Okay! I will go! Arrest me!” The old man pleaded, but the officer did not let up. He reached down and grabbed the old man’s collar. “Please! I can’t see!” The old man cried, but the officer took another blow at him; and another, and another. The officer dropped the old man to ground, and the old man began to cry. The officer walked over to where the old man’s glasses had fallen. He picked them up, and crushed them in his fist. Shards of glass fell onto the road. The officer approached the old man on the ground, and tossed the remains of his glasses at him. The officer spat on the old man. No one seemed to notice.
Fausto and Massimo had gone silent. Massimo took another sip of his coffee.