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Authors: James R. Benn

Tags: #Mystery, #Historical, #War

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BOOK: Blood Alone
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“So the plan called for a communications specialist. Hutton must have had the job of splicing into the local telephone wires. If he had had the right kind of equipment, he could have placed a call anywhere,” Nick said. “Hell, he could have called Mussolini if he’d known the number.”

“Hutton set up his equipment as soon as they landed and sent a message from Rocko to Vito, or maybe to Legs,” Harry contributed.

“I’d bet on that,” I said. “And when Hutton was killed, Vito and his pals had no further use for Rocko. He was just another loose end, like Roberto. Rocko hadn’t gotten the handkerchief from me, so they came after me themselves.”

“Well,” Harry said with a tired sigh, “we still have a job to do. You’ve got to convince Don Calo to work with us, to tell the Sicilian soldiers to surrender, and you’ve got to do it tomorrow.”

“One more thing,” I said. “Is there a woman named Charlotte anywhere in this mess?”

They looked at each other blankly. “Why?” Harry asked.

“Something else I overheard. Vito told Rocko that Charlotte was worried.”

“Did he ever refer to Charlotte as she?” Nick asked. “Like, ‘I spoke to Charlotte and she’s worried about you’?”

“No,” I said. “it was, ‘Charlotte is worried about you.’”

“I don’t know if this means a thing,” Nick said. “But ONI sent me to take a course at the Judge Advocate General school of military government, out in Charlottesville, Virginia. Most of the guys were from AMGOT, but there were a few other Sicilian-and Italian-Americans. Everyone called the place Charlotte. Don’t know why, but they did.”

“What the bloody hell is AMGOT?” Harry asked.

“American Military Government of Occupied Territories,” I said. “The guys who take over after the fighting’s done. They’re the ones in charge of occupation currency.”

“Right,” said Nick. “They’re planning on exchanging all the lire in Sicily for occupation lire, to keep inflation and black marketeering down. Someone high up in AMGOT would have access to the paymaster’s orders.”

“How much money are we talking about, in occupation scrip?” I asked.

“Nobody knows for sure. We’re bringing enough in for divisional payrolls and for exchanging at the first couple of big banks we find. That will give AMGOT time to set up printing presses on the island, for turning out everything from newspapers to more lire.”

“I hope they get your 45th
Division News
going first, if they are going to print newspapers. I do like the
Willie and Joe
cartoons,” Harry said. “The blokes on my boat can’t get enough of them.”

“Patton hates them,” Nick said. “I doubt that Mauldin kid will get much ink while he’s in Patton’s army.”

I wasn’t thinking about Bill Mauldin, who drew
Willie and Joe,
or the Sad Sack character, or Georgie Patton. I was thinking about Charlotte, a code name for someone in AMGOT, someone who’d attended a course at the JAG school in Charlottesville and probably knew Nick from there. Someone asleep in a warm cot right now, safe in Algiers or at the advance base for the invasion of Sicily, Amilcar, in Tunisia. He had two deaths on his hands already—Rocko and Roberto—and he’d nearly ruined this mission. No, make that three deaths.

“Harry, there’s something else I need to tell you. Banville didn’t make it. He and Kaz found me, and we were on our way here when the Germans showed up. Kaz and I escaped, but he didn’t.”

“Was he captured?” I saw the faintest hope in Harry’s eyes and felt like a heel for not saying it straight out.

“No. He’s dead.”

“Bloody hell. There’s going to be a score settled, the sooner the better. Get us out of here, Billy, first thing tomorrow.”

I knew what he meant. I felt it myself, the urge for swift violence to right a wrong done to me. Sciafani had held on to his hate for too long, and when he’d finally done something about it, he’d found vengeance was darker and more haunting than he’d ever imagined. As I had in my own struggle with
la vendetta
. A knife in the ribs eliminated one problem, but another appeared in its place, one that all the violence I could ever summon up would never touch. I felt an overwhelming desire to sit on the front porch stoop with Dad and shoot the breeze for a while, the way we did when he had something important to say. He’d talk around it for a while, circling, easing into it. Maybe he could tell me something more about revenge than having to dig two graves. Or maybe he’d end up saying there simply wasn’t any way around it. If that was true, it would be nice at least to hear it from him. But I wasn’t anywhere near that front stoop in Southie, and I had to get the job done here and now. I had to convince Don Calo to support the Allies, I had to figure out how to get Nick out of this mess, and I had to find the greedy bastard who’d taken three lives. Graves were going to be dug.

“I’ll do my best, Harry. Nick, how far is Cammarata from here?”

CHAPTER • TWENTY-FIVE

DON CALO WAS WAITING for me in the small courtyard, drinking espresso in the early morning sun. I wondered if I was supposed to bow, kiss his ring, or give the secret Mafia handshake. I decided to use one of my few Italian phrases and then get to the point.


Buon giorno,
Don Calo. I have something for you.”

“That is refreshing. People usually want something from me.”

I drew out the handkerchief by an edge, and held it up so he could see the L. “From Salvatore Lucania.”

Don Calo took it, rubbing the silk between his fingers. “He was born less than thirty kilometers from here, and he has never forgotten his home. Salvatore Lucania is a good man. Sit, please, have some
caffè
while we talk.”

He snapped his fingers and a moment later a woman brought out a small silver pot and poured hot, thick coffee into a tiny cup. As I took my first sip, I watched Don Calo run the fabric through his hands. His fingernails were manicured. Once his hands had probably been rough and callused, when he was on his way up, hunting men in the hills. Now he had others around him with rough, hard hands, and he sat in the sun, pressing silk against his palms. I figured a guy like that would want to stay on top, and that he’d go along with whoever could keep him there.

“We call him Lucky Luciano in the states, Don Calo, and I have a message from him for you but first I should tell you about the message I do not have.”

“There are many messages you do not have, my American friend. Why should I care about those?”

“Because there are men who wish to use you, to put you in danger, with plans to steal from the American army. Lucky Luciano has no part in that.”

“What do you mean?” He spoke with the calm, innocent assurance of a master liar.

“Money. Three million dollars in occupation scrip.”

That made him flinch. He was ready to deny anything, but by adding the extra million to the haul I caught him off guard and made him wonder if Vito was holding out on him.

“Three million dollars? That is a lot of money. How could someone steal that much from your army?”

“Actually, I doubt if anyone could. But if someone happened to pull off such a thing, they would only come to ruin.”

“How?” His tone was belligerent now, and I knew I had to convince him or this might be my last cup of joe.

“Don Calo,” I said, leaning over the table, closer to him so I could speak in a whisper. “What do you think would happen to three million dollars’ worth of stolen lire on an island, in the middle of a war? When thousands of armed men are moving through villages and towns? They would search for it. We’re not just talking about the official search by the army, but every GI and probably every
tedesco
ripping this island to pieces to find three million in cash. There’d be no place to run. Every village would be torn apart. The simple people you protect would be the ones to suffer. They would lose far more than my army would. Anyone under even a hint of suspicion would be tracked down. And, it goes without saying, no one under suspicion could ever be trusted, after the fighting is over, in any position of authority.”

I sat back, drained the last bit of strong brew from my cup, and watched Don Calo. He drummed his fingers on the table, as if they were calculating the odds. The drumming stopped, and his lower lip thrust out as he slowly nodded his head. He’d decided something, maybe which of his henchmen should take me out and shoot me or maybe that I wasn’t as dumb as I looked.

“A true
mafiusu
would not weigh money against his people’s welfare. And a man would be a fool to take such a chance, don’t you think?”

“Well, it is three million,” I said, giving my best shot at that all-purpose Sicilian shrug. “A man would have to think about it, even if he was only promised a half share. It is still a lot of money. But no, it wouldn’t be worth it.”

“You are sure about the amount?” Don Calo asked.

“I saw it loaded into the field safes myself, nine of them,” I lied.

“You know all about this then. And you are certain the plan to take this money did not come from Salvatore?”

I had to tone things down a bit. I didn’t want Don Calo thinking Luciano was trying to put one over on him, or else he might not believe anything else I told him.

“Don Calo, I was entrusted with this handkerchief as a symbol of Lucky Luciano’s good wishes. There is only one message. Someone else is trying to use you for their own purposes, to manipulate you, to fool you into carrying out their plot. They threatened Nicholas Cammarata with the death of his relatives if he didn’t bring that false message to you.”

“Who did this?” I knew I had him. He was angry, and now his anger was directed at someone else, for a breach of honor.

“I will find out. Please don’t blame Nick, he was in agony at the thought of his family being held hostage. They have threatened to kill all the men.”

“You must know the names of these others. Who made this threat?” “No names were given. I don’t yet know who the guy at the top is. But here, I believe Vito Genovese, Joey Laspada, and a local man, a big fellow named Muschetto, are part of the scheme.”

“Ah, Vito. That disappoints me. About Laspada, I am not surprised. This Muschetto, he is a
fuorilegge
, a bandit, not even a member of our society. He is nothing. The one in charge, the unnamed one, must answer to me. Are you sure you can find out who he is?”

“Don Calo, please don’t hold this against me, but before the war, I was a police officer, a detective. I will find the person responsible and he will be brought to justice.”

“Hold it against you? Lieutenant Boyle, I own some of the finest
carabinieri
in all of Sicily! I have nothing against the profession of policemen. As long as they take my money and then leave me alone.”

“I do have a favor to ask,” I said, ignoring the crack about owning cops.

“You have done me a favor by alerting me to this foolish venture. What can I do for you?”

“Give me a few men and transport. I want to pay a visit to Nick’s relatives in Cammarata. Tonight.”

He drummed his fingers again, more slowly this time. The odds weren’t as great, so he finished sooner than before.

“Done. You will leave in the afternoon, to arrive well after dark. Now it is time we spoke of the message you do have.”

I took a deep breath, trying to calm my jitters. I’m not the kind of guy who gets the big picture. When Major Harding and the ONI guys had explained it all to me back in Algiers, I hadn’t taken the idea of palling around with the Mafia all that seriously. The mobsters I knew, like Legs and his gang, wouldn’t give two hoots for anyone or anything that didn’t benefit them. So I thought this was a joke, or maybe one of Uncle Ike’s deception plans. Maybe there was something wrong with me, but I had to have a thing right in front of my nose before I got it. I had to see those narrow mountain roads covered by machine guns set up outside packed ramshackle villages. Nothing Harding could have said in a briefing would have gotten to me the way those antitank guns covering that bridge had. I could still smell the burning Shermans. So that’s what I told Don Calo about—the odor of burning flesh and fuel spiraling out of blasted turrets. About Sicilian troops digging in at every crossroad, before every small village that straddled a pitifully narrow road, the soldiers working cheerfully in the sunlight, mopping their brows as if they were sowing crops for harvest. About our heavy artillery and fighter-bombers with their rockets and machine guns, and about bullets in the air so thick they trimmed blossoms from the wildflowers in the meadows like a scythe.

I told him about Signora Patane dying in her bed, her kitchen left stocked and neat. I told him about the bombardment from the cruisers obliterating the militia emplacement outside Agrigento, leaving severed legs and puddles of gore spread over the hilltop. I told him about our forward observer teams—air corps and naval officers who went up front with the infantry and could instantly radio for air strikes or naval fire. I told him we would rain down fire and steel by the ton on any resistance, that we would not throw away our soldiers’ lives to spare the enemy the suffering they would bring on themselves. I told him that once a town was taken, there would be food, medical care, and kindness, but that we would have no mercy beforehand. I told him the world had never seen a war with warriors so rich with the means of death and destruction, and never had so many factories labored so hard to produce so much to kill so many. I made us out to be vengeful prodigal sons, storming the Old World, ready to obliterate anyone who held up a hand to stop us. I felt righteous by the time I was done, and a little ashamed, but this was a
mafiusu
I was talking to, not some schmo from a street corner, so I had to lay it on heavy. Power. I wanted him to feel the power coming his way. The power to destroy and the power to elevate. They were one and the same.

I sat back in my chair and watched his face. He looked older by a decade. Maybe he was thinking about life before the war and how it would never be the same. Maybe he was thinking about his own mother, dying a peaceful death. I don’t know. I did know that there was no need to go on, to hold out promises of position and wealth. He’d see to that himself. He looked at me with expressionless eyes, granting me nothing. I had brought a terrible message—the truth.

“A man does not live to rise to my position without being a good judge of other men,” Don Calo said, after a minute of silence filled the space between us. “I am not surprised by the actions of Vito and his underlings. That is in character, all of it. It is an offense to me, but not a grave one.”

He sighed as he looked around the peaceful courtyard. His violent anger was gone, replaced by disappointment and a wistfulness that seemed to weigh on him.

“And I think you have told me the truth about what will happen, to my island and to my children. We are a powerful society, my young policeman, you know that. We have strong hearts. But you, you bring a storm of steel, you and the
tedeschi
. I cannot let you sweep away the lives of my children and all that I have struggled for. The sooner you have your victory, the sooner you will leave us.”

He nodded and stood. I did too, pushing back my chair, the metal scraping harshly against stone. Don Calo grimaced. I thought he might shake my hand, but instead he steadied himself against the table, as if against the terrible forces standing ready to overcome him. He pulled out a pocket watch on a long chain, the end looped around his suspenders.

“There is not much time,” he said, and left me standing alone.

BOOK: Blood Alone
12.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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