Meaning of Life
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Chapter Sixteen - Technique of the
Coup D'Etat

       AT TEN o'clock on Tuesday evening the village square was swept with wind and rain, but a crowd had been gathered there for three or four hours to listen to the election news coming out of a radio loudspeaker. Suddenly the lights went out and everything was plunged into darkness. Someone went to the control box but came back saying there was nothing to be done. The trouble must be up the line or at the power plant, miles away. People hung around for a half-hour or so, and then, as the rain began to come down even harder than before, they scattered to their homes, leaving the village silent and deserted. Peppone shut himself up in the People's Palace, along with Lungo, Brusco, Straziami and Gigio, the lame leader of the "Red Wing" squad from Molinetto. They sat around uneasily by the light of a candle stump and cursed the power and light monopoly as an enemy of the people, until Smilzo burst in. He had gone to Roccaverde on his motorcycle to see if anyone had news, and now his eyes were popping out of his head and he was waving a sheet of paper.
     "The Front has won!" he panted. "Fifty-two seats out of a hundred in the Senate and fifty-one in the Chamber. The other side is done for. We must get hold of our people and have a celebration. If there's no light, we can set fire to a couple of haystacks nearby."
     "Hurrah!" shouted Peppone. But Gigio grabbed hold of Smilzo's jacket.
     "Keep quiet and stay where you are!" he said grimly. "It's too early for anyone to be told. Let's take care of our little list."
     "List? What list?" asked Peppone in astonishment.
     "The list of reactionaries who are to be executed first thing- Let's see now . . ."
     Peppone stammered that he had made no such list, but the other only laughed.
     "That doesn't matter. I've a very complete one here all ready. Let's look at it together, and once we've decided, we can get to work."
     Gigio pulled a sheet of paper with some twenty names on it out of his pocket and laid it on the table.
     "Looks to me as if all the reactionary pigs were here," he said. "I put down the worst of them, and we can attend to the rest later."
     Peppone scanned the names and scratched his head.
     "Well, what do you say?" Gigio asked him.
     "Generally speaking, we agree," said Peppone. "But what's the hurry? We have plenty of time to do things in the proper style."
     Gigio brought his fist down on the table.
     "We haven't a minute to lose, that's what I say," he shouted harshly. "This is the time to put our hands on them, before they suspect us. If we wait until to-morrow, they may get wind of something and disappear."
     At this point Brusco came into the discussion.
     "You must be crazy," he said. "You can't start out to kill people before you think it over."
     "I'm not crazy, and you're a very poor Communist, that's what you are! These are all reactionary pigs; no one can dispute that, and if you don't take advantage of this golden opportunity then you're a traitor to the Party!"
     Brusco shook his head.
     "Don't you believe it! It's jackasses that are traitors to the Party! And you'll be a jackass if you make mistakes and slaughter innocent people."
     Gigio raised a threatening finger.
     "It's better to eliminate ten innocents than to spare one individual who may be dangerous to the cause. Dead men can do the Party no harm.' You're a very poor Communist, as I've said before. In fact, you never were a good one. You're as weak as a snowball in Hell, I say; you're just a bourgeois in disguise!"
     Brusco grew pale, and Peppone intervened.
     "That's enough," he said. "Comrade Gigio has the right idea, and nobody can deny it. It's part of the groundwork of Communist philosophy. Communism gives us the goal at which to aim and democratic discussion must be confined to the choice of the quickest and surest ways to attain it."
     Gigio nodded his head in satisfaction, while Peppone continued: "Once it's been decided that these persons are or may be dangerous to the cause and therefore we must eliminate them, the next thing is to work out the best method of elimination. Because if by our carelessness we were to allow a single reactionary to escape, then we should indeed be traitors to the Party. Is that clear?"
     "Absolutely," the others said in chorus. "You're dead right."
     "There are six of us," Peppone went on, "and twenty names on the list, among them Filotti, who has a whole regiment in his house and a cache of arms in the cellar. If we were to attack these people one by one, at the first shot the rest would run away. We must call our forces together, and divide them up into twenty squads, each one equipped to deal with a particular objective." "Very good," said Gigio.
     "Good, my foot!" shouted Peppone. "That's not the half of it! We need a twenty-first squad, equipped even better than the rest, to hold off the police. And mobile squads to cover the roads and the river. If a fellow rushes into action in the way you proposed, without proper precautions, running the risk of botching it completely, then he's not a good Communist, he's just a damned fool."
     It was Gigio's turn to pale now, and he bit his lip in anger while Peppone proceeded to give orders. Smilzo was to transmit word to the cell leaders in the outlying settlements, and these were to call their men together. A green rocket would give the signal to meet in appointed places, where Falchetto, Brusco and Straziami would form the squads and assign the targets. A red rocket would bid them go into action. Smilzo went off on his motorcycle, while Lungo, Brusco, Straziami, and Gigio discussed the composition of the squads.
     "You must do a faultless job," Peppone told them. "I shall hold you personally responsible for its success. Meanwhile, I'll see if the police are suspicious and find some way to put them off."
     Don Camillo, after waiting in vain for the lights to go on and the radio to resume its mumble, decided to get ready for bed. Suddenly he heard a knock at the door, and when he drew it open cautiously, he found Peppone before him.
     "Get out of here in a hurry!" Peppone panted. "Pack a bag and go! Put on an ordinary suit of clothes, take your boat and row down the river."
     Don Camillo stared at him with curiosity.
     "Comrade Mayor, have you been drinking?"
     "Hurry!" said Peppone. "The People's Front has won, and the squads are getting ready. There's a list of people to be executed, and your name is the first one!"
     Don Camillo bowed.
     "An unexpected honor, Mr. Mayor! But I must say I never expected you to be the sort of rascal that draws up lists for murder."
     "Don't be silly," said Peppone impatiently. "I don't want to murder anybody."
     "Well then?"
     "Gigio, the lame fellow from Molinetto, came out with the list and secret Party orders."
     "You're the chief, Peppone. You could have sent him and his list to blazes."
     Peppone rubbed his perspiring face.
     "You don't understand these things. The Party always has the last word, and he was speaking for the Party. If I'd stood out against him he'd have added my name to the list, above yours."
     "That's a good one! Comrade Peppone and the reaction¬ary priest, Don Camillo, strung up together!"
     "Hurry, will you?" Peppone repeated. "You can afford to joke because you're all alone in the world, but I have a mother, a wife, a son and a whole lot of other dependants. Move fast if you want to save your skin!"
     Don Camillo shook his head.
     "Why should I be saved? What about the others?"
     "I can't very well go to warn them, can I? You'll have to do that yourself. Drop in on one or two of them on your way to the river, and tell them to pass on the alarm. And they'd better look lively! Here, take down the names."
     "Very well," said Don Camillo when he'd taken them down. "I'll send the sexton's boy to call the Filotti family, and there are so many of them that they can take care of the rest. I'm staying here."
     "But you've got to go, I tell you!"
     "This is my place, and I won't budge, even if Stalin comes in person."
     "You're crazy!" said Peppone, but before he could say anything else, there was a knock at the door and he had to run and hide in the next room.
     The next arrival was Brusco, but he had barely time to say: "Don Camillo, get out of here in a hurry!" before someone knocked at the door again. Brusco, too, ran to hide, and a minute later Lungo burst in.
     "Don Camillo," said Lungo, "I've only just been able to sneak away for a minute. Things are hotting up, and you'd better get out. Here are the names of the other people you ought to take with you."
     And he rushed to hide, because there was another knock at the door. This time it was Straziami, as glum and pugnacious as ever. He had hardly stepped in, when Lungo, Brusco, and Peppone emerged to meet him.
     "It's beginning to look like one of those old-fashioned comedies," said Don Camillo, laughing. "As soon as Gigio comes, the whole cast will be on the stage."
     "He's not coming," muttered Peppone.
     Then with a sigh, he slapped Brusco on the back.
     "Notice anything?" he said reminiscently. "Here we are again, the way we were up in the mountains in the old days of the Resistance. And we can still get along together."
     The others nodded.
     "If Smilzo were only here the old guard would be com¬plete," sighed Peppone.
     "He is here," said Don Camillo. "In fact, he was the first to come."
     "Good," said Peppone approvingly. "And now you'd better hustle."
     But Don Camillo was a stubborn man.
     "I told you once that my place is here," he said. "I'm quite happy enough to know that you're not against me."
     Peppone lost patience. He twisted his hat about and then jammed it down on his head in the way that he did when he was ready to come to blows.
     "You two take his shoulders, and I'll take his legs," he ordered. "It's too late to go by boat. We'll tie him to the seat of his cart and send him away. Straziami, go and harness the horse."
     But before they could raise their arms the lights went on, and they stood there, dazzled. A moment later the radio began to mumble.
     "Here are the results of the election of Deputies to Parlia¬ment, with 41,000 out of 41,168 electoral districts heard from: Christian Democrats, 12,000,257 votes; People's Front, 7,547,468 ..."
     They all listened in silence until the announcement was over. Then Peppone looked gloomily at Don Camillo.
     "Some weeds are so tough that they overrun everything," he said angrily. "You had a lucky escape, that's all I can say."
     "You had a lucky escape yourself," Don Camillo answered calmly, "for which God be praised."
     One man didn't escape and that was Gigio. He was proudly waiting for orders to set off the green rocket and, instead, he got a volley of kicks that left him black and blue all over.
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