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Authors: James R. Benn

Tags: #Mystery, #Historical, #War

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BOOK: Blood Alone
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CHAPTER • TWELVE

I AWOKE FROM a dream. I’d been standing at a window, or maybe it was a door to a veranda overlooking sparkling blue water. Sunlight glinted off low, rolling waves as soft breezes wafted through palm fronds in the garden below. It was beautiful, except for the twin-engine German bomber, smoke and fire trailing one wing, dropping its bombs as it headed straight for me. They struck, one by one, first in the ocean, then the beach, then closer to where I stood, and right before the last one, I felt someone by my side. We were holding on to each other, watching the last bomb hurtle toward us as the burning plane, nearly at treetop level, zoomed over the building and vanished.

I awoke before the bomb hit and before I could turn to see whom I held.

I awoke and wished I could go back to sleep, even if it meant dying in the explosion, if only I could see who was standing next to me. It was a woman, but not just any woman. She was the woman of my dreams. I realized she’d been in my dreams the past few nights, in the shadows, out of sight but always there, a presence, a reality I could never turn to fast enough to glimpse.

I sat up on the thick straw pallet that was my bed. Kaz lay across from me, covered in a rough wool blanket. We were in a bare stone room at the back of the house. I felt my way down the narrow hall to the back door. My mouth was dry and my head thick with the wine we’d drunk. I stood over the well, pumping up water to drink and rub over my face. It felt good to breathe in the cool night air, refreshing and cleansing. Off to the east, a line of light blue appeared at the horizon; dawn was not too far off. It was quiet, the kind of deep late-night quiet that seemed to hold the promise of a better day, or at least the chance of one.

Then it wasn’t quiet. A scuffling of feet, a hushed whisper. I couldn’t make it out, but it was Italian, or Sicilian, not that I’d know the difference. All I knew for certain was that it was a sound that didn’t belong in the quiet hours before dawn. A suspicious sound, wrong in every way, in its haste and hidden nature. I walked around the side of the house, my hand on the cool stone, steadying myself as I watched each step to avoid the slightest stumble. I peered around the corner, my face in the shadows. Two stooped figures, one hurrying the other, tottered off into the grove of orange trees, and disappeared in the dark. Signor and Signora Ciccolo, beating feet for all they were worth.

I walked around in front of the house, not worrying about being seen by the old couple, swiveling my head, listening. I looked at my watch; the luminous dial and hands showed a quarter to five. What did the Ciccolos know, and at what time was it going to happen? No other sounds carried in the night. No heavy boots on gravel, no engines, no grunts from armed men running to surround the house. They wouldn’t cut it so close, would they?

A tiny, distant grinding noise came from the main road we’d come in on. Gears. Someone was grinding his gears as he shifted. Nothing else, but the mechanical grating sound hung in the air, and I thought I could hear engines, two or three, coming closer. The Ciccolos must have overslept. I ran into the house.

“Kaz, Kaz, wake up!” I ran up the narrow steps to the small bedroom on the top floor. The door was open and Sciafani was already up. “What is it?” he asked. “
Tedeschi?

“I don’t know, but let’s get out of here before we find out.”

Sciafani knew the Germans might shoot him as a deserter, parole or no parole. I flew down the stairs and Kaz was up and ready, revolver in hand.

“What?” he asked, his eyes darting around the room.

“The Ciccolos are gone; they went off into the woods a minute ago. And there are vehicles headed this way.”

Kaz exited, Sciafani following. I dashed back into the bedroom, grabbing what little gear I had, glad to have my .45 in its holster and the rifle in my hands. I went to the open door, straining to hear the engine noises to judge their distance. It didn’t matter. As I stepped outside, I felt cold metal, the business end of a double-barreled shotgun pressed against my neck. I froze. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Kaz and Sciafani off to the side, a big guy in a black suit standing behind them, a sawed-off shotgun raised to their heads.


Pezzu di carni cu l’occhi
,” said the big man, pointing at me with his shotgun.


Sì,
Muschetto,” my guy said, laughing, as he pushed me toward the others. Two more men, wearing cloth caps pulled down over their eyes and black vests over rough farm shirts, appeared from in back of the house. Sporting sawed-offs on straps hung around their necks, they nodded to Muschetto, the all-clear sign. No trouble from us, we’d been easy pickings. The engines were closer now, and I figured these mugs had been here all along, waiting for us to run outside to see what the fuss was about and be gathered up, one, two, three.

“What did he say?” I asked Sciafani, glancing at Muschetto, who was grinning beneath his thick black mustache. He had a broad chin and small deep-set eyes set close together. He was at least six feet tall, and he could have rested his arm on top of Kaz’s head if he got tired of holding the shotgun on us, but it looked like not much would tire out Muschetto.

“It is hard to translate exactly. He said you are a piece of meat with eyes, meaning that you look like, well, a shocked idiot, perhaps.”

“Thanks for the translation. Next time make up something nice,” I said.


Silenzio,
” Muschetto said.

I obliged as the others relieved us of our weapons and stacked them inside. Two vehicles came down the dirt track leading to the farm, past the field of cauliflowers, then past the barn, which I avoided looking at. Muschetto waved to them. In the lead was a little Fiat 500, one guy at the wheel. Behind that was a U. S . Army jeep, the driver and passenger both wearing khaki uniforms like officers, with the summer service cap, leather visor, and shiny brass eagle insignia.

They drove right past the barn. I shifted my eyes away, not wanting to tip them off. Banville was in there with the truck, and unless he was a heavy sleeper, he had to be watching us through one of the narrow windows of the stone barn. Old Man Ciccolo was playing an angle with these guys. He had to have betrayed us, but why should he give up a nice truck? He must’ve told these palookas there were three of us in the house, and left out the part about stashing a truck in the barn.

Muschetto motioned the three of us to back up against the house, and held his shotgun on us casually as he waited for the men in the jeep. I didn’t hold out any hope this was the cavalry coming to the rescue since our captors were relaxed and confident. They didn’t look much like the Mafia gang members I knew from Boston. Back home, they were togged to the bricks, always clean, shoes shined, colorful ties like garlands around their necks. These guys wore dusty black or dingy gray, with a few days’ growth of beard, and evidently had spent longer than that between baths. But the sawed-offs said Mafia, real down-home Sicilian
mafiusu
.

The jeep pulled up in front of us. The passenger wore a .45 automatic in a shoulder holster. He was short and stout, not a picture of military elegance in his rumpled khakis, maybe forty or so. He displayed no rank or insignia, but Muschetto jumped to as if this passenger was royalty, offering a hand to help him out. Muschetto bowed like a servant, then quickly eyed us to make sure no one moved a muscle.

It was only when the passenger tipped his cap up and I saw his eyes that I made the connection. Deep set, they were surrounded by dark bags and shadows cast by his heavy brow, the whites of his eyes looking lost in bluish gray caverns. I’d seen them gazing at me from wanted posters and glossy photos sent by J. Edgar.

“Vito Genovese,” I said, not by way of introduction, but out of astonishment. He stood in front of me and smiled, a meaningless expression on the face of a major crime boss.

“You know me, that is good,” he said. It was the same voice I’d heard in Rocko’s tent. The kind of calm self-assurance that comes from having a pack of Mafia gunsels to back you up, and at the same time knowing you don’t need them. “Let’s go inside where we can talk.”

He brushed past me and I got my third shock of the morning. First came the Sicilian Mafia, then the American Mafia shows up, and now here was Joey “Legs” Laspada, enforcer for the Boston Mob. He was the driver, looking natty in his khakis and service cap, worn at a jaunty angle over thick, wavy black hair. He gave us all the once-over, but I could tell he didn’t recognize me.

“I thought you were dead,” I said, locking eyes with him even as Muschetto herded me to the door with the butt of his shotgun. That caught Laspada off guard, as his eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed again into his permanent look of suspicion. They constantly darted about, gauging the chances of threat or enrichment wherever he went. His mouth was long and thin, a match for his narrow eyes. He had a wide, high forehead, a sign of intelligence according to some. On Laspada, it looked like a wall behind which deadly secrets were forever held.

“I ain’t,” he said, as he followed Genovese into the house, not giving me a second look.

I followed meekly, knowing what these men were capable of and wishing I didn’t.


Fa’il caffè,
” said Genovese, and Muschetto, towering over us all, made himself busy at the stove. He did so with ease, pulling a tin of coffee from a shelf without looking for it. He was no stranger to this house. Genovese sat at the head of the table, and Kaz, Sciafani, and I were shoved into the other three chairs by Muschetto’s goons, who left without a word. Laspada leaned against a wall and lit a cigarette, peering at me through the smoke.

“Boyle,” he said, snapping his fingers. “Your old man’s on the Homicide Squad, right? Hey, Vito, this one’s a bluecoat from back home. Kinda makes me homesick.”

“Seeing you makes me plain sick, Legs,” I said. Laspada stood, a scowl on his face and one hand on his holstered pistol.

“Gentleman,” Genovese said, his hands up in a gesture of calm. “There is no need to revive old animosities here. We have come to help you, but first we need to know exactly who you are and what you are doing here.”

“How did you know we were here,” I asked, “so you could help us?”

“We have come, at great risk, because we heard of two Allied soldiers traveling with an unknown civilian, out in front of our lines,” Genovese said, drumming his fingers on the table in irritation. “Think of this as a rescue mission. You should be thanking us, not questioning us as if this were a police station. We are a world away from all that, my friend. This you would do well to remember.”

“Billy,” Kaz said. “How do you know these people? Who are they?” Genovese nodded to me, as if I should make introductions. I started with our little group.

“I’m Lieutenant Boyle, and this is Lieutenant Kazimierz.
Il dottore
Enrico Sciafani was just released from a POW camp and has his papers to permit him to return home.” I watched Sciafani as I spoke. He looked nervous, and I wondered if he’d heard of these guys before. But then any Sicilian would recognize these men with their sawed-off shotguns.

“You’ll be interested, Kaz, since you like American gangster movies so much, to meet Vito Genovese, one of the top Mafia bosses in New York City. Word has it that he killed his former boss, Joe Masseria, on the orders of Lucky Luciano himself. Luciano took over all the Mob operations in the city, and Vito rose up with him. Until 1937, anyway, when he left the country ahead of a murder charge.”

I could see Kaz was actually interested in all this.

“You head one of the Five Families,” Kaz said, sounding a little like he was meeting a movie star.

He and Daphne had loved to watch gangster movies and learn American slang. I rubbed my eyes, trying not to think about it, trying to focus on what was happening and how to get free of these mobsters.

“No, no,” Genovese was saying. “That is all nonsense the newspapers print. I am simply a businessman who wished to visit the old country, and then was trapped here by the war. How could I be facing a murder charge? I work for AMGOT.”

I could see Sciafani didn’t understand so I broke in. “That’s the American Military Government of Occupied Territories.”

“Yes, exactly. I met some of the first American troops in Gela and soon found a Senior Civil Affairs officer and volunteered my services. I am employed as a translator and for whatever special situations may occur.”

“Him too?” I jerked my thumb in the direction of Laspada. I tried to think only about Legs back in Boston, not about Daphne, not about Kaz and his pain. And not about mine.

“Joey is my driver, also officially employed by AMGOT. So you see, we are all on the same side.”

Genovese spread his hands and laughed. All one big happy family, with Vito at the head of the table. Muschetto set down a small cup of steaming coffee in front of him, and handed one to Laspada. I guessed the distant relations didn’t warrant any java.

“Joey ‘Legs’ Laspada,” I said to Kaz, nodding at the other American. “Chief enforcer for Phil Buccola, head of the Boston Mob, or syndicate, as they call themselves. Back in ’39, we found a badly decomposed body on the incoming tide in Boston Harbor. Had Joey’s billfold on him and two slugs in his skull. We figured Joey had done something to anger Phil, who’d had enough of him. But it looks like Joey found a way out of that mess.”

“Like Mr. Genovese, I am an American citizen who was trapped in Italy when the war started. I’ve been hiding out in the mountains here, waiting to be liberated. Now I am eager to assist in any way I can.”

It was a nice little speech, one I was sure appealed to the AMGOT bigwigs. They were desperate for Italian speakers, especially anyone with an intimate knowledge of Sicily. When these two showed up waving their arms and welcoming GIs, I bet AMGOT’s brass fell over itself to sign them up and let them play soldier. And they had contacts among the locals; their own private Mafia army was proof of that.

“Why do they call you Legs?” asked Kaz, ever the eager student of American gangland slang.

“Guess because I ran track in high school,” Laspada said.

BOOK: Blood Alone
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