Authors: Giacomo Giammatteo
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Rule Number One—Murder Takes Time
Chapter 2: A Big Mistake
Chapter 3: Ties to the Past
Chapter 4: With Life Comes Death
Chapter 5: Coppers
Chapter 6: Confession
Chapter 7: Investigation
Chapter 8: The Oath
Chapter 9: Mikey “The Face” Fagullo
Chapter 10: More Evidence
Chapter 11: Angela
Chapter 12: A Stacked Deck
Chapter 13: What’s in a Name?
Chapter 14: Roach Races
Chapter 15: Forbidden Fruit
Chapter 16: More Charts
Chapter 17: A New Direction
Chapter 18: A Gathering of Friends
Chapter 19: Thoughts of Death
Chapter 20: Death Is Forever
Chapter 21: Confinement
Chapter 22: Bad News Never Stops
Chapter 23: Another Funeral
Chapter 24: Things in Common
Chapter 25: Reformation
Chapter 26: Marriage Lasts Forever
Chapter 27: Release
Chapter 28: A Cleansing of the Soul
Chapter 29: Where Is the Evidence?
Chapter 30: Reunion
Chapter 31: Questioning
Chapter 32: A New Job
Chapter 33: Very Good Friends
Chapter 34: Johnny Muck
Chapter 35: Johnny Muck Takes an Apprentice
Chapter 36: Donnie Amato
Chapter 37: An Unexpected Call
Chapter 38: Special Delivery
Chapter 39: DNA Doesn’t Lie
Chapter 40: Motives
Chapter 41: A Busy Year
Chapter 42: Oaths and Friends
Chapter 43: Happy Birthday, Tony
Chapter 44: A New Assignment
Chapter 45: Advice
Chapter 46: A Long-lost Letter
Chapter 47: Rule Number Two—Murder Has Consequences
Chapter 48: Tough Decisions
Chapter 49: Indianapolis
Chapter 50: Tony and Tito Have Lunch
Chapter 51: Shattered Oath
Chapter 52: Where to Now?
Chapter 53: A New Life
Chapter 54: Late-night Call
Chapter 55: Rule Number Three—Murder Takes Patience
Chapter 56: Who Is Watching?
Chapter 57: Things in Common
Chapter 58: You Can’t Hide Forever
Chapter 59: Caught
Chapter 60: Say Goodbye to Cleveland
Chapter 61: Call from Cleveland
Chapter 62: Precautions
Chapter 63: Who’s Next
Chapter 64: Rule Number Four—Murder Is Invisible
Chapter 65: Martyrs and Saints
Chapter 66: Begging for Help
Chapter 67: Rattus Rattus
Chapter 68: Watching the Watchers
Chapter 69: Judgment Day
Chapter 70: A New Shopping List
Chapter 71: A Long Wait
Chapter 72: Rule Number Five—Murder Is A Promise
Chapter 73: Trapped
Chapter 74: Old Memories
INFERNO PUBLISHING COMPANY
© Copyright 2012 Giacomo Giammatteo
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
Inferno Publishing Company
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Print ISBN 978-0-9850302-0-9
Electronic ISBN 978-0-9850302-1-6
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events herein are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath.
RULE NUMBER ONE:
MURDER TAKES TIME
Brooklyn, New York—Current Day
e sipped the last of a shitty cup of coffee and stared across the street at Nino Tortella, the guy he was going to kill. Killing was an art, requiring finesse, planning, skill—and above all—patience. Patience had been the most difficult to learn. The killing came naturally. He cursed himself for that. Prayed to God every night for the strength to stop. But so far God hadn’t answered him, and there were still a few more people that needed killing.
The waitress leaned forward to refill his cup, her cleavage a hint that more than coffee was being offered. “You want more?”
He waved a hand—Nino was heading towards his car. “Just the check, please.”
From behind her ear she pulled a yellow pencil, tucked into a tight bun of red hair, then opened the receipt book clipped to the pocket of her apron. Cigarette smoke lingered on her breath, almost hidden by the gum she chewed.
, he thought, and smiled. It was his favorite, too.
He waited for her to leave, scanned the table and booth, plucked a few strands of hair from the torn cushion and a fingernail clipping from the windowsill. After putting them into a small plastic bag, he wiped everything with a napkin. The check was $4.28. He pulled a five and a one from his money clip and left them on the table. As he moved to the door he glanced out the window. Nino already left the lot, but it was Thursday, and on Thursdays Nino stopped for pizza.
He parked three blocks from Nino’s house, finding a spot where the snow wasn’t piled high at the curb. After pulling a black wool cap over his forehead, he put leather gloves on, raised the collar on his coat then grabbed his black sports bag. Favoring his left leg, he walked down the street, dropping his eyes if he passed someone. The last thing he wanted was a witness remembering his face.
He counted the joints in the concrete as he walked. Numbers forced him to think logically, kept his mind off what he had to do. He didn’t
to kill Nino. He
to. It seemed as if all of his life he was doing things he didn’t want to do. He shook his head, focused on the numbers again.
When he drew near the house, he cast a quick glance to ensure the neighbors’ cars weren’t there. The door took less than thirty seconds to open. He kept his hat and gloves on, walked into the kitchen, and set his bag on the counter. He removed a pair of tongs and a shot glass, and set them on the coffee table. A glance around the room had him straightening pictures and moving dirty dishes to the sink. A picture of an older woman stared at him from a shelf above an end table.
Might be his mother,
he thought, and gently set it face down. Back to the kitchen. He opened the top of the black bag and removed two smaller bags. He set one in the fridge and took the other with him.
The contents of the second bag—hair and other items—he spread throughout the living room. The crime scene unit would get a kick out of that. He did one final check, removed a baseball bat from the bag, then sat on the couch behind the door. The bat lay on the cushion beside him. While he stretched his legs and leaned back, he thought about Nino. It would be easy to just shoot him, but that wouldn’t be fair. Renzo suffered for what he did; Nino should too. He remembered Mamma Rosa’s warnings, that the things people did would come back to haunt them. Nino would pay the price now.
A car pulled into the driveway. He sat up straight and gripped the bat.
INO HAD A SMILE
on his face and a bounce in his step. It was only Thursday and already he’d sold more cars than he needed for the month.
Maybe I’ll buy Anna that coat she’s been wanting.
Nino’s stomach rumbled, but he had a pepperoni pizza in his hand and a bottle of Chianti tucked into his coat pocket. He opened the door, slipped the keys into his pocket, and kicked the door shut with his foot.
There was a black sports bag on the kitchen table.
Wasn’t there before,
Nino thought. A shiver ran down his spine. He felt a presence in the house. Before he could turn, something slammed into his back. His right kidney exploded with pain.
“Goddamn.” Nino dropped the pizza, stumbled, and fell to the floor. His right side felt on fire. As his left shoulder collided with the hardwood floor, a bat hit him just above the wrist. The snap of bones sounded just before the surge of pain.
“Fuck.” He rolled to the side and reached for his gun.
The bat swung again.
Nino’s ribs cracked like kindling. Something sharp jabbed deep inside him. His mouth filled with a warm coppery taste. Nino recognized the man who stood above him. “Anything you want,” he said. “Just kill me quick.”
HE BAT STRUCK
knee, the crunch of bones drowned by his screams. The man stared at Nino. Let him cry. “I got Renzo last month. You hear about that?”
He tapped Nino’s pocket with his foot, felt a gun. “If you reach for the gun, I’ll hit you again.”
He knelt next to Nino, took the shot glass from the coffee table. “Open your mouth.”
Nino opened his eyes wide and shook his head.
The man grabbed the tongs, shoved one end into the side of Nino’s mouth, and squeezed the handles, opening the tongs wide. When he had Nino’s mouth pried open enough, he shoved the shot glass in. It was a small shot glass, but to Nino it must have seemed big enough to hold a gallon. Nino tried screaming, but couldn’t. Couldn’t talk either, with the glass in there. Nino’s head bobbed, and he squirmed. Nothing but grunts came out—fear-tinged mumbles coated with blood.
The man stood, glared at Nino. Gripped the bat with both hands. “You shouldn’t have done it.”
A dark stain spread on the front of Nino’s pants. The stench of excrement filled the room. He stared at Nino, raised the bat over his head, and swung. Nino’s lips burst open, splitting apart from both sides. Teeth shattered, some flying out, others embedding into the flesh of his cheeks. The shot glass exploded. Glass dug deep gouges into his tongue, severing the front of it. Shards of glass pierced his lips and tunneled into his throat.
He stared at Nino’s face, the strips of torn flesh covered in blood. He gulped. Almost stopped. But then he thought about what Nino had done, and swung the bat one more time. After that, Nino Tortella lay still.
He returned to the kitchen and took a small box from the bag on the counter then went back to the living room. Inside the box were more hairs, blood, skin, and other evidence. He spread the items over and around the body then made a final trip to the kitchen to clean up. He undressed and placed his clothes into a large plastic bag, tied it, and set it inside the black bag. He took out a change of clothes, including shoes and plastic covers for them. Careful not to step in any blood, he went back to stand over the body.
Nino lay in his own piss, shit, and blood, eyes wide-open, mouth agape.
You should never have done it, Nino.
He blessed himself with the sign of the cross while he repeated the Trinitarian formula. “
In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti
.” Then he shot Nino. Once in the head. Once in the heart.
An eye for an eye. And then some.
Before stepping out the door, he removed the plastic covers for his shoes, placed them into the bag, then closed and locked the door behind him. The wind had picked up since he arrived, bringing a cold bite with it. He turned his collar up and tucked his head into his chest.
Forgive me, Father, for what I have done.
He walked two more blocks, almost to the car, when an image of Donnie Amato appeared in his head.
And for what I still have to do.
A BIG MISTAKE
our of Tony Sannullo’s men waited outside of Cataldi’s restaurant, alert for signs of trouble. A gold Lexus pulled up, and a big man dressed in a Brioni suit stepped out. Paulie “The Suit" Perlano straightened his blue silk tie, ran a comb through a full head of dark hair, then walked up to the guys gathered by the door.
“Hey, Suit,” one of them called.
“Hey, Paulie,” another said.
“Anyone tell Tony yet?”
Four heads shook at once. “You fuckin’ tell him,” one of them said.
Paulie stood on his toes and peeked in the window. Tony “The Brain” Sannullo sat alone at a round table that seated six, his back against the wall. An espresso sat to the right of his crossword puzzle, and he chewed on the end of a ballpoint pen. Despite the advice he’d received all of his life, Tony was a creature of habit. On Friday mornings he took his espresso, along with breakfast, at Cataldi’s.
Paulie shook his head then walked up three steps to go inside. “He’s not gonna like it.”
Anna Cataldi greeted him. “
, Paulie. Beautiful day, huh?”
“That depends,” Paulie said, but then he laughed. He had an easy laugh, the kind that came from frequent use. “How you doin’, Anna? How’s that new baby?”
“Good, Paulie. And your kids?”
“Hey, Anna, kids are kids. They’re always good. Pains in the ass, but good.” As they walked toward the back, Paulie asked, “He in a good mood?”
Anna raised her eyebrows and shrugged. “It’s February.”
“Yeah,” she said, and waved Paulie on.
He headed toward Tony’s table, the rumbling in his gut a combination of hunger and nerves.
Tony scratched in one of the final answers of his crossword as Paulie came to the table. “When are you gonna dress like the rest of us, Paulie? Nobody wears suits anymore.”
Paulie fidgeted with his silverware while he stared at Tony’s crossword. “Still got a few to do, huh?” Nobody liked to interrupt Tony’s crosswords.
“You got a seven-letter word for radiant or dazzlingly bright?”
“Sure, Tony. It’s right on the tip of my tongue.”
“Starts with an ‘f.’”
“Yeah, I got one—fucking—as in
“That’s my buddy Paulie. I knew I could count on you.” Tony chewed on the end of his pen while the waiter brought another espresso for him and a new one for Paulie. “
. That’s the word I was looking for.”
Paulie fidgeted more.
Might as well spit it out.
“Okay, Mr. Fulgent, if you can take your nose out of that puzzle for a minute, I got something to tell you.”
“Nino Tortella got clipped last night.”
“Shit.” Tony slapped the table. “How?”
“Same as Renzo.”
“You know what this means.”
“Yeah, I know. There’s no way Nino didn’t talk. Might be a couple of guys smart enough not to talk, but not Nino.”
“Anybody seen Donnie Amato?”
Paulie sipped his espresso. “I called. Got no answer.”
“Send a couple of guys to warn him.”
“You know how hardheaded Donnie is. He thinks he can handle himself.”
Tony slugged the last of his espresso. “Fat chance of that.” He tossed two twenties on the table. “I’ve got to call Tito. Catch up with me later.”
Paulie narrowed his eyes. “You didn’t have anything to do with this, did you?”
“You know who’s doing this.”
“We shouldn’t have done it, Tony. It was wrong from the get go.”
“Tell me about it,” Tony said, and headed for the door.
Lot more people are gonna die now.
TIES TO THE PAST
etective Lou Mazzetti pulled to the curb and got out of the car, his creased Oxford loafers splashing slush onto frayed pant cuffs. He buttoned his coat, positioned his hat to cover a bald spot, then went up the walk toward the old brick house. The house was still in nice shape—most were in this neighborhood, a community of predominantly Italian and Irish, but with a good mix of Poles and a smattering of Jews. Lou nodded to a patrolman stationed at the door as he climbed the steps. Today he felt as tired as he was old.
“How is it?” Lou asked.
“Neighbors didn’t hear anything, but they didn’t get home till late.” The patrolman shook his head. “Looks the same as the first one.”
Same as the first one.
A disturbing thought, but as Lou examined the scene it proved to be true: dead male shot once in the head, once in the heart.
And damn near every bone in his body broken.
No shell casings, and he felt certain the crime scene unit would find hairs, blood, skin, and DNA from a wide assortment of people. Lou looked at the medical examiner, Kate Burns, a pretty girl with skin as pale and freckled as her Irish name suggested. “Anything?”
Kate shook her head, wrapped up her kit and tucked it into a bag. “I’m sure we got his DNA, but it’s mixed in with the rest.”
“Process it all.”
“I’ll process it, but unless you get something more, it won’t do you a damn bit of good.”
through the door and wiped slush from his Moreschi shoes using a monogrammed handkerchief. He unbuttoned his cashmere coat, hung it on a rack behind the door, then surveyed the crime scene with the hazel eyes he inherited from his father. Rumor was he got the Irish luck from his father, too, but that’s where the gifts stopped. The dark skin, bold nose, and brown hair came from his Sicilian mother, along with a birthmark on his neck, which his grandfather swore resembled a map of Sicily. It was a dark pigment, almost black, and it sat just below and left of a solid, square jaw that looked as if it might shatter. He’d had it hit enough times to know it wouldn’t.
“I just ran into Kate. She said we got nothing.”
“Hey, Frankie.” Lou walked over and gave him a slap on the back. “They told me you were coming. Anybody fill you in?”
“The lieutenant gave me the basics. He said you’ve had three now.”
Mazzetti nodded. “Three, yeah, but this might be the worst.”
Frankie motioned for Lou to join him in the kitchen. “Lou, listen, I—”
“Donovan, don’t worry. I knew the captain was gonna give the lead to someone. I’m glad it’s you.”
“Let me fill you in. First one was bad, like this. The guy makes them suffer. Kate says they’re dead before he shoots them.”
Frankie listened as Lou went over the details, then he spent time walking around. He checked the body, looked at the mess on the floor, picked a few things off the dresser then headed toward the kitchen. “What’s this?” he asked, looking at an evidence bag on the counter.
“You said there were no clues.”
“I bagged it, didn’t I? But it’s no clue; it’s rat shit.” Mazzetti laughed. “You want more? We got cat hairs in the sink, but he doesn’t have a cat. There’s probably dog shit in the bedroom, or who knows, maybe in the fuckin’ freezer. But no dog. And we got enough DNA to represent half the criminals at Riker’s.” Mazzetti waved his hand in the air, as if to surrender. “It’s the same old shit. That’s why I got no leads after three killings.”
“Guess we got too many clues,” Frankie said, and picked up a brown paper bag at the end of the counter. “What’s in here?”
“Dead rat. Found it in the fridge. How’s that for a psycho? You think this guy ate them?”
Rat shit and a dead rat.
“Mazzetti, I want everything you’ve got on these murders. Every scrap of information. Every photo.”
“I just told you. We got nothing.”
“Get it ready for me.”
“You know something?”
Frankie remembered the time Nicky and Tony broke into Billy Flannagan’s house and stuck a rat in his fridge. “Maybe I do.”
“Don’t you think you ought to share?”
Frankie considered his answer carefully. Some things even partners didn’t share. “I’ll think on it.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Is this how you work with a partner? I’d have been better off with Jumbo.”
Frankie opened the door, turning to Lou before leaving. “I think somebody sent me a message. If I’m right, you don’t want to know.”
RANKIE PULLED INTO A
parking space and walked toward his apartment. Alex and Keisha, two of the kids from the building, were sitting on the stoop. He was in a hurry to get upstairs, but he always made time for these two. Alex was ten years old and, like a lot of young street kids, he was nothing but ribs and skin. Keisha was twelve and going through one of those slightly chunky phases that young girls hated. “What are my two favorite brats doing out in this cold?”
Alex didn’t bother to look up. “Not everybody hates cold like you, FD.”
“You know why we’re here,” Keisha said.
Frankie sat next to them, shivering when his ass hit the concrete. He reached over and rubbed Alex’s head. “Your mom got company?”
Alex’s chin rested on his hands. “Yeah.”
“Besides that, how’s it going?”
That drew a smile. “Not bad, FD, how ’bout you? Still catching bad guys?”
“Not so much catching as looking for, but it keeps me busy.” Frankie put as much enthusiasm as he could muster in his voice. “I’ve got to get out of this cold. Why don’t you two come up? I’ll make dinner.”
“I’ve tasted your cooking,” Alex said.
“Guess it’s just me and my girlfriend.”
Keisha straightened her skirt, grabbed hold of Frankie’s hand and walked inside.
Alex followed. “I didn’t say I wasn’t coming. Your cooking’s bad, but it’s better than what I’ve got.”
Frankie kept his smile as they walked up the stairs. What he wanted to do was bust Alex’s mother and haul her ass to jail. He
if he could figure a way to keep Alex out of child services.
When they hit the second floor landing, Keisha’s mother poked her head out the door. “Keisha, time to eat, baby.”
“We’re eating with FD.”
She stepped into the hallway, hands on her hips and a stern look on her cocked head. “Girl, how many times have I got to tell you—Detective Donovan doesn’t need you and Alex keeping him from work. Lord knows we need some people arrested in this city. We could
some arrested right here in this building.” She gave Frankie a raised-eyebrow stare when she said that.
Keisha protested, but her mother put a stop to it. “No arguing.” As she walked back into her apartment she turned. “Bring Alex if you want.”
Alex sniffed the air then looked at Frankie. “FD, I’m taking a pass on your invite. You smell that pot roast? Gonna be
better than what you make.”
“Don’t be surprised if I come down to eat with you guys,” Frankie said, and started up the steps toward his apartment. He was relieved to have the night free, but sad the kids weren’t joining him. Some people had soft spots for dogs or cats. For Frankie, it was kids. He couldn’t refuse a kid in trouble. Maybe because of his own troubled youth, or maybe he just thought he could make a difference.
By the time he reached the top of the stairs, he had his tie off and his shirt unbuttoned, despite the chill of the stairway. He turned the key and pushed open the door, greeted by a vast emptiness.
An empty house for an empty person.
That’s what Mamma Rosa used to say. He shrugged, as if accepting the inevitable, made his way to the kitchen, opened a bottle of Chianti, then took a shower.
When he came out, clad in shorts and a T-shirt, he poured a glass of wine and sat at his desk. Writing opened his mind and let him think differently. He thought about the day and the crime scene.
Rat shit and a dead rat.
The rat held special significance. To any other detective it would have been nothing, but to Frankie it said a lot. If someone from the old neighborhood was involved it reduced his suspect list from millions to a handful. At the top of that handful were two people—Tony Sannullo, crew boss for the Martelli crime family; and Niccolo Fusco, otherwise known as “Nicky the Rat.”
He clicked the top of his rollerball pen, took a narrow-lined notebook from the drawer and started. Frankie used computers for almost everything, but he preferred to write the old-fashioned way, with a pen on paper. The pen felt comfortable in his hand. Even the nuns back in grade school told him he’d be a writer someday.
Anyone with penmanship like yours will learn to write
. That’s what Sister Mary Thomas told him. Maybe her inspiration kept him going when he wanted to quit. Frankie sipped the wine, put ink to paper and wrote:
‘This story started about thirty years ago, down by Philly. But that’s a long way off and a lot of years past. Even so, my memory is clear on this—how you ask—it’s easy for me. Tony, Nicky, and I were best friends. So how did Frankie Donovan, a Brooklyn Detective, and Tony Sannullo, a mob boss, and Nicky “The Rat” Fusco, come to be best friends?’
Frankie set the pen down and leaned back in his chair. He didn’t feel right telling this story. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t get started. People say that the past holds the key to the future. Frankie didn’t know how much of that was true, but he knew someone from the old neighborhood was involved with these crimes. If he hoped to solve them he’d have to figure out where things went wrong. Frankie put his hands behind his head and kicked his feet up.
If this is about the old neighborhood, then it’s really Nicky’s story. Maybe he should tell it.
WITH LIFE COMES DEATH
Wilmington, Delaware. Summer—32 Years Ago
y mother’s name was Maria Fusco. They say she struggled with her pregnancy, and that the first eight months felt more like eighteen. Morning sickness lasted four months, then headaches, back pain, stomach cramps—all the things she didn’t want, especially with her first child. Rosa Sannullo, her neighbor and best friend, said it was a sign, and not a good one. Trouble in the first few months meant the baby might get toothaches or gas pains. The second few months meant a troubled youth. But problems throughout the pregnancy usually meant a bad child, the sign of the devil at work. Rosa always blessed herself when she said this, and she always carried a
—an amulet to ward off evil—to clamp onto the child the moment it was born.
Rosa stayed with my mother the whole day, dabbing her head with a cool cloth when the fever came, spooning
in her mouth when it waned. “Eat, Maria.”
“Not hungry,” she mumbled. “Where’s Dante?”
“Dante’s still working. But listen to me. I’ve had four babies, tended to eight or ten more, and I’m about to have another. You need to eat for the baby. He needs strength.”
Maria’s laugh was weak and forced. “You keep saying
. How do you know it’s not a girl?”
Rosa scoffed. “A girl would never cause so much trouble. Girls wait until they are grown—
they cause trouble.” She raised her head toward heaven and sighed. “
You don’t want to know the trouble they cause then.”
Rosa scrubbed the pot she cooked the
soup in, then set it aside to dry while she finished the dishes. “Besides, you need to have a boy so he can play with my Antonio.” She rubbed her swollen belly and laughed.
Maria shifted to her side, holding her stomach. “Maybe I should go in.”
Rosa bent down, put her hand to Maria’s stomach. “Water hasn’t broken, but he
kicking hard. That’s a good sign.” She stood, thinking. “But if you have pain, maybe we should go in. I’ll get Dominic.”
OSA TALKED ALL THE
way to the hospital, and all the time holding Maria’s hand. “Betty McNulty asked about you. And that Snyder woman down on Chestnut Street.”
Maria nodded. “She’s nice. How is her little girl doing? Didn’t she have trouble at birth?” Maria’s hands flew to her stomach. Her knees raised. “Rosa.” Her teeth ground together, forehead wrinkled. “Oh, God. It hurts.”
Rosa patted Maria’s head while she squeezed her hand. “It will be all right. Hold on.” She leaned toward Dominic and whispered. “
hurrying, Rosa.” Dominic stepped on the gas, but every block Rosa yelled more. Half a mile later his tires screeched as he pulled into the hospital entrance. He jumped out, flung open the back door and pulled Maria out, carrying her in his arms.
Rosa held the door open and shouted. “Get a doctor. This woman is having a baby. And she’s bleeding.”
An attendant met them in the hall with a wheelchair. He helped Maria out of Dominic’s arms, then rushed her toward the operating room. Rosa grabbed hold of a doctor talking to a nurse. “
, get in there with Maria. That woman is having a baby.
They waited five or ten minutes before Rosa remembered no one had told Dante, Maria’s husband of ten years. It was difficult to tell at times which one loved the other more. He doted on her and she waited on him as if it were her only job in life. “God help me, Dominic, we didn’t tell Dante.”
“Calm down, Rosa. Do you know where he is working?”
“Some job…” She scratched her head. “By the waterfront. Down on Front Street.”
Dominic nodded. “I know the one.”
Within half an hour, Dominic returned with Dante, his face etched with worry. He rushed over and hugged Rosa.
“How is she?”
“She was in a lot of pain.”
For more than an hour they sat, and paced, and worried. As Rosa prayed on her rosary beads, Dante got up for the third time. Paced more. Wrung dry hands. “What could be wrong?” His brow was a wrinkled mess.
“Please sit,” Rosa said. “Worry wears the heart raw.”
Dante came back to the sofa and sat. “We cannot lose that baby. It’s all Maria has lived for.”
Rosa looked into his eyes and held his face. Dante Fusco was a stonemason, a strong man. But even more, he was a respected man. She hugged him again then waved to her husband to leave them alone. “It will be all right, Dante. Try not to worry.”
Minutes later a doctor came through the double doors of the waiting room. He looked around as he took the green mask off his face. “Mr. Fusco?”
Dante jumped up and ran to him. “I am Dante Fusco. How is Maria?”
The silence seemed to last a year. As the doctor reached for Dante’s hands, Rosa was up and running to him.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Fusco,” the doctor said. “We couldn’t save her.”
Dante heard the words and knew their meaning, but he could not accept them. Something twisted inside of him. Snapped. Broke. He stared at the doctor. No tears. “And the baby?”
“You have a healthy boy.”
Dante nodded, then turned and walked away. Walked past Rosa, waiting to console him. Then past Dominic, returning with coffee. He walked out the door and all the way home, never stopping for anything, thinking about nothing but Maria. About the life they would never have together.
HREE DAYS LATER
went with Dante to get the baby. Dominic drove.
“Dante, a baby cannot go unnamed for so long. If it does it will lose its soul.”
“Once I get him home I will find a name.”
“I always liked Gianni,” Rosa said. “Or Vittorio.”
“I will think on it, Rosa.”
Rosa blessed herself. “Think all you need to—just give him a name before Satan does.”
As they neared home, Rosa reached over and blessed the baby. She had already put the
around his neck. “He should be breastfed. Two blocks over, the Snyder woman’s neighbor just had a baby. She could feed him. And that Irish girl on Maryland Avenue—Camille, I think her name is—her baby is only three months old. She should have plenty of milk. Those Irish always have good milk.”
Rosa leaned back, rubbing her own enlarged stomach. “This little one is kicking. I think he wants to come out and play.”
“How do you know it is a boy?”
“Because she’s a witch,” Dominic said, from the driver’s seat.
Rosa brushed her hands in the air. “Because I already have four boys, and I have the same feeling I had with them. I must have done something very wrong for God to punish me like this.” She blessed herself when she said it. “
He kicked again. We might not need that Irish girl. It looks as if Antonio will here before the doctor thinks.”
Dante patted her arm. “You’re a good woman, Rosa. Thank you for your help.” He leaned forward then said, “And thank you, Dominic. I appreciate all that you and Rosa have done.”
“Don’t forget what I said about breastfeeding. He already looks skinny.”
Dante sighed. “Rosa, I know how you feel, but babies do fine with formula.” He kept a firm, yet soft, grip on the baby, wrapped in a blanket Rosa knitted. He looked at its twisted features, pinkish face, curled feet.
Not a good trade for Maria. Not a good trade at all.
Y FATHER DIDN’T GIVE
me a name until I was five days old. Rosa warned him not to wait, said Satan might claim me.
Niccolo Conte Fusco—that’s the name he gave me. I guess it’s questionable whether he did it in time. Some, like Rosa, swear he did; others…well, others might say he waited too long. Far too long.
Wilmington—26 Years Ago
woke up happy on my sixth birthday. August first was the day I was born, but Mamma Rosa made me celebrate two birthdays—the day I was born, and the day Pops named me, just in case the saints mixed them up.
School was more than a month away so we had plenty of time to do things. Plenty of time to get into trouble, my father said. He was mostly right. Tony, Frankie, and I ran that neighborhood, at least in our minds. We were six, going on eight, and wishing we were ten.
Smoking cigarettes was old hat by now. It was one of the things we lived for. Anytime we were far enough away from home or the prying eyes of a neighbor, there were smokes dangling from the left side of our mouths. Had to be the left side too. I don’t know where that came from, but somebody we saw and admired must have done it that way.
I was still lying lazily in bed when the front door opened. I heard feet pounding up the stairs.
“Get your butt up, Nicky.” Tony came in, followed by Frankie.
Frankie’s real name was Mario, named after his mother’s father, but he didn’t like the way
so he went by his middle name. If we wanted to piss him off, we called him
. Worked every time.
“Christ’s sake, half the day’s gone,” Tony said. “Let’s go.”
I jumped out of bed, started dressing. “What’s the rush?”
“You guys are gonna help with cleaning.”
“You prick.” Frankie said, and wrestled him to the bed.
We all laughed, then ran up the hill toward Tony’s house. The hill we lived on was steep, not San Francisco steep, but the kind of hill that was great for stick-boat races in the gutters after a summer rain, or for catching rides on the bumpers of cars when it snowed. Anyway, we were kids and running up hills was fun.
“This better not take too long,” Frankie said.
“We’ll be done in no time.” When Tony opened the front door, the sweet smell of garlic hit me. I was hungry before the storm door banged shut.
“Good morning, Mamma Rosa.”
“What are you boys up to?” She shut off the upright vacuum and pulled a dust cloth from a pocket on her old plaid dress to wipe the end table.
“We’re helping Tony clean,” I said. A few steps later we were across the living room and into the dining room.
“Coffee is in the pot, Nicky. And taste my sauce. Tell me what you think.”
Mamma Rosa called it “sauce” like the Americans did. Many of the immigrants called it “gravy” or “ragu” and got insulted if you said sauce. It was one of the few American customs Mamma Rosa adopted early on, and
was more important to her than her sauce.
“I’ll taste it in a minute, Mamma.” Coffee was always brewing at Mamma Rosa’s house, and something was usually cooking. I thought it was the way
houses smelled—that wonderful aroma of coffee, and garlic, and red sauce. I poured a half cup of coffee and dipped my finger in the sauce. “
Mamma Rosa stopped cleaning to tend her spaghetti sauce. Every now and then, she wandered over to taste it, frowned, then added a pinch of garlic or a sprinkle of cheese. No matter how many times the recipe was tweaked, it seemed to need a pinch of something to make it
“Nicky, taste this again.”
She hummed one of her favorite old Italian songs as she cooked. I never knew the names of them, doubted she did either, but they sounded good. I dipped my finger in and tasted the sauce. “
” I said, and gave her a big hug.
Mamma Rosa treated me the same as her own kids. I remember her saying that raising me and Tony together was a blessing. To her, everything was either a blessing or a curse, and she embraced both with appropriate passion.
“It’s for your birthday. Not today, the other one.” She leaned against the stove and laughed. The way her belly shook made me smile. “Aren’t you glad I gave you two birthdays?”
“Sure am, Mamma Rosa. That’s one extra time I get your meatballs.”
Tony raced down the steps into the kitchen. “Ciao, Mamma. We’re done.”
“Where are you boys off to?”
“Try to find some work. Maybe stack boxes at the grocery store,” Tony called over his shoulder.
“Don’t spend all you earn.”
“We won’t,” Tony said.
We headed out the front door, down three worn concrete steps and across the yard, the smell of fresh-cut grass tickling my nose. Six more steps took us to the sidewalk.
Frankie acted nervous before we hit the next street. “I’m almost out of cigs.”
“Need to get some money,” Tony said.
I checked my pack. “I got two.”
“One,” said Frankie.
I gave both of them a hard glare. “I’m not stealing any.”
“Let’s go to Johnny’s and carry bags,” Tony said.
Frankie took a long drag on his last cigarette. “Nobody’s gonna pay us to carry bags.”
“Up those hills they will. Find us a couple of sweet old ladies, and
—we got some bucks.”
We walked ten blocks to Johnny’s Meat Market, inconveniently situated halfway down one steep hill and at the bottom of another, ensuring that most everyone had to carry their groceries up a hill. For two hours we asked people if we could carry their grocery bags, hoping to earn tips. By mid-morning we earned enough for a pack of cigs, but only one.
“Screw this,” Frankie said. “Go get some, Nicky.”
The cigarettes were in racks above the checkout counters, too high for any of us to reach. “I’m not doing it.”
“I’ll do it,” Frankie said. “Get in position and make it something good.”
Tony and I went in and moved to the right while Frankie pretended to look at comic books. Tony bumped into a metal rack of canned beans. When the cashier came to help, Frankie jumped onto the counter and grabbed packs as fast as he could.
All of a sudden a customer yelled, “Hey, kid, get the hell off there.”
Frankie leapt off the counter and dodged a stack of magazines, but ran into the arms of Johnny, owner of the meat market. Frankie scrambled to get away, but Johnny had “butcher hands,” as we called them; there was no way Frankie was breaking his grip.
Frankie’s old man would kill him if he got caught, so instead of running, I rammed into Johnny’s side, breaking his hold on Frankie. We ran for the door but Johnny caught me, holding me like a vise.
SAT IN THE
chair at the cop station, scared shitless. Two cops had been grilling me for an hour. It was a hot, sticky day, and they had the windows closed, probably on purpose.
The tall cop, Moynihan, handed me a bottle of Coke. “Remember your name yet, kid?”
“I gotta pee.”
“Not until you tell us your name.”
“And who you were with,” the other cop said.
“Already told you. Wasn’t with anyone.”
The second cop, a young black guy, leaned down to look me in the eye. “Johnny said two other boys were with you, and one of them stole cigarettes. A customer said the same thing.” He smiled. “Nobody will get in trouble if you tell us what happened.”
“Two other dagos,” Moynihan said.
I looked up at his Irish-whiskey face and nose. “I know the kids you mean. I don’t know their names, but I think they were dirty micks.”
Moynihan reared back to smack me but his partner shook his head. He stepped in close and whispered, “Johnny said they were dark-haired and looked Italian. The one who stole the cigarettes had a birthmark on his neck.”
I stared at the black cop. “No offense to you, sir, but they must’ve been black Irish.” I turned to Moynihan after I said it. “I really gotta pee, bad.”
Moynihan sneered at me. “As soon as you tell us who you were with.” He laughed as he left the room.
I waited, then waited some more. I had to piss so bad it hurt. I stuck my hand down my pants and held my dick, squeezing it to stop from peeing. It helped at first, but soon got worse. I thought about telling them my name, but knew it would hurt Rosa. Besides, I couldn’t get Tony and Frankie in trouble.
Twenty minutes later they returned. Moynihan wore an are-you-ready-to-talk-kid smile. I gave him a screw-you smile in return. “Bring me any Coke?”
Moynihan looked around the room, checked under the table, then looked in the trash can where I’d pissed. “You little fuck.” He stretched across the table and slapped me, knocking me from the chair.
His partner grabbed him, but he shook it off. “Tommy, leave it alone.”
Moynihan yanked me up with one hand and slapped me again. “Little bastard.” He slammed me into the chair and shoved it into the table, squishing my gut. “You’ll tell us who you were with before you leave here, or I swear—”
By then I was crying, nose bleeding.
“That’s enough. I’m through with it,” the partner said.
The door to the interrogation room opened.
“Pops.” I pushed the chair back and ran, jumping into his arms.
My pops was a short, muscular man with a hooked nose and dark complexion. When he was angry he got a terrible, scary look in his eyes. He hugged me then set me down. He cleaned the trickle of blood from my lip, wiped my nose with a handkerchief from his back pocket then folded it and put it away. Moynihan turned his head when Pops glared at him. It was that day I realized how frightening Pops’ eyes were.
” the partner asked Pops.
Pops picked me up and headed for the door. As we were leaving I heard Moynihan whisper, “You know who that was?”
I didn’t know why that scared them, and I didn’t care. I was glad to be going home.
Wilmington—25 Years Ago
t was the summer before second grade, and we were worried about something that wouldn’t happen until springtime—confession. It loomed larger than the shadows and noises that followed us when we took shortcuts through the woods at night. None of us said we’d tell the truth, but nobody was brave enough to say they’d lie to a priest either. In the absence of a solution, we didn’t talk about it.
During the last week of August, we made lots of trips to the smoke shop. This was where the important people in the neighborhood went. The guys who dressed nice, drove Caddies, and laughed as if the world were a great ball of fun. The smoke shop was full of colorful characters: Mikey the Face, Patsy the Whale, Tommy Tucks, Charlie Knuckles, Nicky the Nose, Paulie Shoes, and a host of others. It was run by Doggs Caputo, a tough little bastard who never smiled and always sported a five-o’clock beard. Doggs also had a thing about nicknames—everybody had to have one. If he gave you one, it normally stuck.
On Thursday, the week before school started, Tony and I went to buy cigarettes. While we waited, Doggs came out. He shoved the frames of Coke-bottle glasses through wiry hair that should have been cut a month ago. Should have been combed, too. “What are you kids doing here?”
“Just hanging out,” Tony said.
“What’s your name?”
I kicked him before he got out the rest.
He finished the sentence with, “Nothin’.”
I stared at Doggs. “What difference does it make?”
Doggs swaggered over, flipped his cigarette at my head. I ducked, glared at him.
“So, we got Tony fuckin’ Nothin’ and Mr. fuckin’ Nobody, huh?”
At times it seemed as if every word out of Doggs’ mouth was an “f.” And he was clever in how he used the word; he used it as a verb, a noun, an adjective, even tacked on some letters and managed to use it as an adverb. When he got really pissed, he strung them together in the same sentence. He stared at Tony and me, lit another cigarette, then laughed. It was such an unusual occurrence that the Whale rushed outside.
“What’s goin’ on?” Patsy’s voice rolled down the street, rumbling like a bowling ball down a lane. Whenever he talked I expected to hear pins shatter at the end of the sentence.
“Go back inside,” Doggs said. “I’m having a conversation with my new friends.” He tousled the hair on both our heads and started to walk away, then turned back, staring at me, then Tony. “What the fuck, you two brothers?”
“Just friends, why?”
“You look like brothers.”
“Yeah, we hear that all the time,” Tony said.
Doggs squinted as he looked at me. “You the kid Moynihan couldn’t bust at the station?” He bent down, looked closer. “Look at me, kid.” When he stood again, his head was bobbing. “Yeah, I thought so. You’re Dante’s boy all right. Got those same fuckin’ eyes.” He opened the door to the shop. “Patsy, get a couple packs of Winstons. One for Tony Nothin’ and one for Nicky the Rat.” He turned back to look at me. “It is Nicky, isn’t it?”
“I ain’t no rat.”
“That’s right, boy. And that’s why you’re getting the name. Not many kids your age keep their mouth shut. Got good blood, though. Guess I’m not surprised.” He grabbed the cigarettes from Patsy, tossed a pack to each of us. “See me next summer. Maybe I’ll put you to work.”
“We can do it now,” I said.
“You’ll do it when I say, Rat. Now get out of here before I take back those cigarettes.”
“Thanks, Doggs,” Tony said.
“Yeah, thanks,” I said.
As we walked home, I wondered what Doggs meant by “good blood,” but Tony distracted me.
“The Rat,” Tony said.
“Sounds like a goddamn squealer.”
“Bullshit. Everybody’s gonna know. Christ’s sake, you got the name from
.” We walked about half a block before Tony spoke again. “Besides, it’s like Johnny Viola, you know how they call him Johnny Handsome.”
“Yeah, guess so,” I said, and whistled. “He sure is an ugly fucker.”
“Ugly as a goddamn peach seed.”
We both laughed as we walked the rest of the way home. “Johnny Handsome,” I said, and smiled.
EPTEMBER CAME FAR TOO
fast, and with it the first day of school at St. Elizabeth’s. We walked the corridors along with hundreds of other kids, looking for our classes and wondering who our teacher would be. There were only two options: Sister Mary Leona or Sister Mary Thomas.
Sister Leona was ancient—jowls like a bloodhound and eyes so squinty it was hard to tell if they were open or closed. Frankie said she taught his grandfather. Judging by what we saw, I didn’t doubt it. Of course, an old teacher had its benefits: worse hearing, worse eyesight, couldn’t hit you as hard.
On the other hand, Sister Mary Thomas was the meanest, nastiest, most horrible person God ever put on this earth. She was also the nicest, kindest, sweetest, and most caring person God ever put on this earth. Which side you got depended on who you talked to and on what day, or even what time of day. She stood a few inches above five feet, but when she walked the corridors with her fiberglass yardstick or her pointer, she was a giant. Some kids said the yardstick twitched as she walked, looking for someone to hit. And she was as quick as a cobra when she struck. If you found her singling you out, you’d better hope your ass was padded because there was a good chance you were getting whacked. One kid, Jimmy Borelli, got hit so often he brought a pillow to school so he had something soft to sit on.