Long Reads Pick of the Week: Pipino – Gentleman Thief

Since I spend so much time reading long-form non-fiction online, I’m going to link to my favourite one every week for anyone who’s interested in similar reading.

This story features magicians, the mafia, tigers (which may or may not be real), a thief afraid of the dark, a missing painting and the heist of a lifetime. You can read about the shenanigans here.

gentleman thief

Pipino had planned a quiet day at the library, so it was with some alarm that he saw a man named Andrea Zammattio waiting for him at the door.

“Hi, uncle,” Zammattio said. Younger criminals sometimes called Pipino “uncle” out of respect.

Pipino was instantly wary. Zammattio was a member of the Mala del Brenta, the local mafia organization in the Veneto, the northeastern part of Italy that includes Venice. Under the leadership of Felice Maniero, a thirty-seven-year-old dandy who went by the name Faccia d’Angelo — Angel Face — the group had assassinated many of its rivals. Now they controlled everything from water taxis to drug trafficking in Venice.

As his nickname suggested, Maniero was good-looking, with a deceptively warm smile. But he was also a lunatic with mommy issues. In 1994, when Maniero was arrested and jailed in connection with eighteen murders, reporters asked him for comment. “I’d like to say hello to my mother,” he said, wearing a cravat and trying to wave with handcuffed hands.

The police had a hard time keeping Maniero locked up. In 1987, he sawed through the bars of a prison cell and escaped through the sewer system. Later, in 1993, he was arrested aboard his sixty-foot yacht (named after his mother), only to escape prison again. Like Magnum P.I., he had a red Ferrari 308 GTB. Unlike Magnum P.I., he lived with his mother.

Zammattio explained that Maniero wanted to bust into the Ca’ Rezzonico Museum with a contingent of armed men and make off with a stash of paintings. He would then trade them in exchange for stepped-down surveillance and his cousin’s release. To maximize his bargaining power, he needed Pipino to identify the best paintings and organize the heist so it went smoothly.

Pipino felt a chill. Aside from the fact that people might get killed, Maniero’s plan could spell the end of Pipino’s career. If a group of armed thugs raided a museum and terrorized tourists, Venice’s museum directors and wealthy art owners would invest in security upgrades. Armed guards, surveillance cameras, motion-detection systems; a city on high alert. Pipino had been plying his trade on a deliberately small scale, working to ensure that the art found its way back to its owner without upsetting the delicate balance he had struck with Palmosi and the police force. This Ca’ Rezzonico job would ruin everything, Pipino thought. It would give thieving a bad name.

The problem was, he couldn’t say no to Maniero. Until now, the big boss hadn’t meddled in Pipino’s work. But if Pipino was viewed as disloyal, Maniero could ban him from stealing in the region, or simply have him killed.

“Tell Felicetto,” Pipino said, thinking quickly, “that I have an idea.”

Pipino: The Gentleman Thief by Joshua Davis and David Wolman


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