Any Port When They Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse

, , , | Legal | June 10, 2021

I was in the US Navy and my ship was moored in Sicily for several days. I purchased several good brands of Cuban cigars in [Sicilian Town], and I was also carrying two or three brands of cigars from Honduras and the Dominican Republic — two other countries which produced stellar cigars. I regularly shared my smokes with my shipmates, both to share the fun and to make sure I didn’t accidentally bring contraband Cuban cigars back to the ship.

My small group of c-workers and I preferred eating and drinking in quiet, so we were trying to avoid the bars and restaurants close to the ship; American sailors are notoriously boisterous on liberty in foreign ports. We made our way far down the waterfront in [Small Sicilian Town] and stopped at a small restaurant for dinner. We chose to eat in the outdoor café area because it was a lovely evening and so we could smoke after dinner. I handed cigars out to my friends and we enjoyed some coffee and cigars in Sicily. It was an amazing night, made possible by the US Navy.

A local customer who’d been eating in the outdoor area asked me a question as we smoked. I thought he was complaining about the cigars, so I apologized and we all started to get up and leave. He waved us back to our seats with a smile, then pointed at the cigars and asked more questions. I was still having trouble with the accent — the wine I’d had with dinner probably wasn’t helping — but I definitely understood one word: “Cubano”. I guessed he was asking if we were smoking Cuban cigars, so I sat and spent the best part of a half-hour trying to communicate. With a great deal of gesturing and my poor grasp of Italian, I finally managed to tell the gentleman I had Cuban, Dominican, and Honduran cigars, and offered him one of the Cubans. He really appreciated this gesture, introduced himself, and walked with us when we left the restaurant for a nearby bar.

We sat at a corner table away from the door and ordered the usual round of beer and liquor almost all sailors indulge in. We spent most of the evening talking and smoking and drinking at this bar, which had relatively few other customers. We were joined by a couple of very pretty local women after a bit, which understandably brightened our mood. One of the young ladies spoke decent English, which made it easier to communicate with our new friend.

With the woman acting as interpreter, I drunkenly held forth on the merits of various cigar brands and showed off a couple of varieties I had in my jacket pocket. I offered [Gentleman] one particular Honduran smoke which I was particularly fond of, and he was pleased and impressed, lighting up and smoking it with pleasure. As we went to settle up with the bartender, [Gentleman] waved us away and said, through the English-speaking young lady, that he would take care of it. The bartender wished us a good night in several languages as we departed. The gentleman and the young ladies waved goodbye as we walked back toward the ship.

The next morning, I was told to report to the Command Master Chief’s office. Confused and not a little curious, I went to CMC’s office and was surprised to find my shipmates from the night before also waiting. We were hustled into the office and found the CMC talking to a local police officer, who I later learned was a member of the Carabinieri, Italy’s national police force. This did not bode well.

The Carabinieri wanted to question us because we’d been reported as being in the company of a known criminal. It turns out that [Gentleman] was a prominent figure in the local mafia, and the restaurant where we’d eaten was a known hangout for the mob. We were all pretty blown away by this news, and we freely told CMC and the Carabinieri officer everything we could remember. He eventually decided we had just been stupid and drunk, and not part of some nefarious criminal enterprise.

Our chain-of-command was extremely unhappy with us, and that restaurant was declared “Off-Limits” to all sailors for the duration of our stay. My friends and I were restricted to the ship for the rest of that port visit, and we spent a lot of that time writing reports about that evening for the ship’s security officer.

All future visits to foreign ports saw my friends and me sticking close to the ship, no matter how loud and obnoxious our shipmates were.

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