Bloodline: New Excerpt

Bloodline by Warren Murphy
Bloodline by Warren Murphy
Bloodlineby Warren Murphy is a gritty historical novel about the Mafia in 1920s New York City (available November 10, 2015).

The Falcones are an immigrant family living in New York City in 1920. Their patriarch, Tony, is a respected policeman. His sons, Tommy and Mario, both served in the Great War and are now upstanding citizens-a cop and a priest. But their cousin Nilo has a dark past, and he fled to America after causing several deaths in a fight in Italy.

Nilo soon falls in with Don Maranzano, a Mafia boss who comes from his hometown in Italy. Maranzano grooms Nilo as a “real estate broker,” but after a few months, Nilo is offered the chance to do some serious work. He becomes a useful still-wrecker, assassin, and skilled criminal. The papers give him the name “Kid Trouble.” Tommy and Mario try to turn a blind eye, but it's hard to hide his underworld affiliations.

As conflicts in the city begin to erupt into a violent war involving gangsters from all parts of the country, Tommy and Mario struggle to stay out of the dark world into which Nilo has dragged the family. But when things take a turn for the worse, the Mafia may be the only place for them to go.


May 1919

The sirocco was blowing hot and fierce out of the heart of the Sahara desert, hopping quickly across the short span of the Mediterranean that separated Africa from Sicily, up the face of the Sicilian mountains, down the other side, and on out into the Gulf of Castellammare.

Danilo Sesta stood in the bow of the tonnara boat and stared back over the purple and blue and peacock-green waters into the heart of the hot wind, back toward the town of Castellammare del Golfo.

He did not much care for work, rising early, laboring until after dark, forced into the company of loud and stupid men, but still, he thought life was good.

And someday it will be perfect.

The tunny were running well this spring, and even though he was just eighteen, he was making a man’s wages. For now. But when the fishing season ended in the autumn, he would be the first to lose his job, and that would not be so good. Perhaps he would go to America. It was cold there, he had been told, and he would not have the sun and the heat that he loved. But there would be work. He would grow rich, as did all who went to America.

And then when he was old—forty or so—he would come back to Castellammare del Golfo and build himself a fine villa and stock it with many fine things to eat—he was always hungry—and many beautiful women: women of every color and sort, but all of them very, very bellissima.

“Hey, Nilo.” A voice behind him spoke his nickname.

Nilo turned around and smiled. “What, Fredo?” he asked.

Fredo motioned him to come closer. He was perhaps a dozen years older than Nilo, a short, sturdily built man who looked like one of the Saracen lords who had ruled this island so many hundreds of years before.

“We’ve work to do,” Fredo said.

He was looking down into the mattanza, the “chamber of death” as it was called, the small room made of fishing nets and hung in the sea between the two boats of the tonnara.

Nilo was puzzled. He moved closer to the older man. They were not supposed to be fishing this day, not collecting the tunny or spigola or dolphins or swordfish or sharks that had swum into the chamber, there to be speared and hauled aboard either of the tonnara boats.

Indeed, there were only four of them out on the water: Nilo, Fredo, and, on the other boat, the two Selvini brothers, Paolo and Enzo. The others of the tonnara crew were all ashore, helping to celebrate the wedding of the fleet owner’s daughter, and only the four of them had been left behind to clean up the boats and to protect the nets from vandals or thieves.

Nilo did not like the other three, but he had found them useful. They drank too much, and when they did, they were careless with their money and some of it found its way into Nilo’s pockets. He justified this by thinking, As well into my pocket as into the purse of some waitress or prostitute.

“I did not think we were to do any fishing this day,” Nilo told Fredo.

Fredo smiled at the boy and put his arm around him. Nilo was handsome, almost to the point of prettiness. He had large chocolate eyes with thick black lashes, pouting lips, and a slim boyish body. At night, several times when the boats had been at sea overnight, Fredo had lain down next to him, gently brushing the boy’s back. Nilo had pretended to remain asleep, ignoring him, as if he had not noticed.

“That is not the kind of work I mean,” Fredo said.

Nilo looked at him for a moment, then shrank back. He had the fleeting fear that Fredo knew Nilo had been stealing his money and that of the other crew members. He tried to tell himself that it was only his imagination.

“What do you mean?” Nilo asked. He tried to move sideways carefully to the rack where the great long gaffs that they used to haul in the fish were stowed.

Fredo laughed softly, almost shyly.

“Have I ever told you how beautiful you are?” Fredo asked.

Nilo stopped. He said nothing.

“I dream of you all the time,” Fredo said. “You and nothing else.”

Nilo laughed and then spat into the sea.

“I thought you were a man, Fredo,” he said. He was just out of arm’s reach of the gaffing poles.

“I am a man, and as a man, I must have you.”

Nilo felt a shiver run up and down his spine. Where were Paolo and Enzo? He needed help. Fredo was too big, too strong. There was no place to run to. No help could be expected from the wedding guests until late this night at the earliest. And despite the way he made his living, Nilo could not swim. The water had always frightened him.

Nilo called the names of the other two men. “Paolo! Enzo!”

Now it was Fredo’s turn to laugh.

“It will do no good, little thief,” he said. “They feel the same as I. And we have all paid in advance. With all the money you have lifted from our pockets.”

The two brothers appeared just then in the corner of Nilo’s vision, and he turned toward them, but with just a glance, he could see that what Fredo had said was true.

Nilo fought them to keep them from catching him. And he fought them while the brothers held him down while Fredo carefully, methodically violated him. He fought them when Paolo entered him, and he fought when Enzo did the same. By then he was bleeding terribly and he felt as though his flesh had been gashed open, just as he had gashed open so many of the fish that they had hauled in from the mattanza.

They let him lie there on the deck, unconscious, after that. Then, in the heat of the dying late afternoon, they came into him again and again and again, drinking and laughing and singing songs of the sea.

When the sun went down and darkness covered the waters and they were done with him, the three men threw Nilo into the sea, counting on the predators that always swam around the tonnara boats to finish him off.

*   *   *

IT WAS SPRING AGAIN. Tommy Falcone knew that before he even opened his eyes. He could smell it on the air: a scent dense with lilacs and some other unidentified heavy, sweet flowers, an aroma that somehow managed even to gently, subtly overpower the sick, septic smell of the hospital all around him. Tommy could tell it, too, from the very texture of the air. It felt warm and moist, soft, pleasant, comforting. The worst was over.

He opened his eyes slowly. The operations were over, they had told him. No more going under the knife. His body would repair itself now, they said, and in a few short months—six at the outside—by Christmas, he would be well enough to go home. Tommy smiled to himself. He almost felt like singing. But he could not do that. It would disturb the other men on the ward, other men far sicker than he, many of them with no hope of ever really recovering, no hope of ever going home.

Tommy’s eyes were open all the way. Then he remembered. He was not on the ward anymore. He looked around him. They had moved him the previous evening. He was in a private room, a room to himself. He stretched, felt a twinge of pain from the exertion, and laughed anyway. It was the first time in over a year that he had slept in a room by himself. God, he loved it. He loved life.

There was a robe lying across the end of his bed. He put it on, limped to the window, and looked out. There was an immense green lawn that seemed to stretch on and on forever, spotted here and there by clumps of trees. Tommy laughed again. In his neighborhood in New York City, ten thousand people—maybe twenty thousand—would live in that amount of space, but here there was nothing except for a few robins tugging at their breakfast worms and a couple of squirrels playing a frenetic game of tail-chasing.

The feeding robins reminded him that he was hungry. For some reason, even that thought amused him, and he laughed again and began to think he had turned into an idiot who thought everything was funny. He wondered how soon breakfast would be served. He turned and walked carefully to the door. Walking was still a new experience to him. He had spent months in bed while his liver, his kidney, his stomach, and his hip bones were being carefully rebuilt, and even now, after all the surgeries had been deemed successful, he walked slowly and cautiously. He made it to the door and turned the knob. It did not open. He went back to the bed to sit down and ponder this bit of information.

He looked again toward the world beyond the window and noticed for the first time that the window had bars on it. For a moment, Tommy fought back a rapidly rising panic. Then the door opened.

A nurse came through carrying a breakfast tray. She was old and almost ugly, but she had a cheery manner and she showed her teeth when she smiled.

“Good morning, Tommy. It’s a beautiful day out, isn’t it? How are we feeling this morning?”

Tommy noticed that she had not bothered to close the door behind her.

“I’m fine,” he said carefully.

“Is something wrong, Tommy?” the nurse asked. “You don’t sound like yourself this morning. And look what I’ve brought you. Remember last night? I asked you what you’d like and here it is. Eggs. Pancakes. Bacon. Even orange juice. And lots of coffee.”

“Thanks,” Tommy said without enthusiasm. “That sounds good. Real good.” He paused. “Is there some special reason why I’m in here?” he asked. “And why there are bars on the windows? And the door’s locked?”

The old woman smiled at him reassuringly.

“Doctor will be in after breakfast,” she said. “He’ll answer all your questions for you then.”

Then she was gone and Tommy heard the door click locked behind her. It was only after she had left that he realized she had forgotten to give him his shot.

He was tempted to call after her but decided not to. He would wait until the doctor came.

He tried to eat his breakfast. The nurse was right: it was all the things he liked, but nevertheless he had no appetite. He was feeling too restless to sit down and eat.

*   *   *

GOOD MORNING, TOMMY,” the voice said. It had a slight southern drawl.

Tommy opened his eyes slowly. Had he fallen asleep? It did not seem likely and yet he must have.

He twisted around until he was sitting on the edge of his bed. The man perched on a chair next to the bed was dressed in the uniform of a U.S. Navy medical officer. It took Tommy a moment to get beyond the uniform, and then he noticed the man himself: he looked young, not much more than Tommy’s own twenty years.

He nodded briskly at Tommy and said, “I’m Doctor Singer. We haven’t met before.”

“I don’t feel so good, sir,” Tommy said.

The doctor half-smiled.

“I’ve been reading your records,” he said. “It says that you were a very brave man at Belleau Wood.”

“I don’t remember, sir. I just remember being scared. I guess all I did was what I had to do to stay alive. And not let my pals or the corps down.”

“In my book, that adds up to brave.”

“Thank you, sir,” Tommy answered.

“Now you’re going to have to be even more brave.”


“We made a mistake,” the doctor said. “We’re going to try to correct it.”

Tommy felt panic beginning to grab at him.

“I don’t understand, sir.”

Doctor Singer pulled the chair over to the side of Tommy’s bed and sat near the younger man.

“I’m not going to feed you a lot of nonsense,” he said. “We’ve given you too much morphine over too long a period of time.”

Tommy’s panic swelled. He could feel his temples pounding. Growing up on the streets of New York’s Little Italy, he had seen enough of what morphine could do to be scared.

“Am I a drug addict?” he asked slowly.

Singer shook his head. “I wouldn’t call it that. I prefer to call it a ‘morphinist.’”

“What’s that mean, sir?”

“It means that I don’t think that you have the temperament to be a drug addict,” Singer said. “It means that I think I can cure you.”

“How, sir?”

The doctor hesitated.

“For one thing, we’ve been steadily decreasing the amount of morphine we’ve been giving you. We’ve taken you down from nearly five grains a day about six weeks ago to just a little more than one grain a day now.”

“That sounds good,” Tommy said. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“That’s another thing that makes me hopeful.”

“What do we do next?” Tommy asked.

“We’ve already done it. As of this morning, we’ve taken you off all drugs altogether.”

Tommy had heard before about what that meant, heard it on the streets of his neighborhood.

“Cold turkey from here on in?” he said.

“Yes,” Doctor Singer answered. “The next couple of days might be pretty hard on you.”

*   *   *

NILO SESTA WANTED TO DIE. He wanted nothing more than release. Release from his pain. Release from his shame. He could not live anymore. He wasn’t a man. Not after what had been done to him. He was not a man and he was worse than a woman.

Nilo let himself sink deep into the sea. It made no difference. The sea was warm and inviting. The Gulf of Castellammare would take him into its bosom, hold him there, not let anyone hurt him anymore, not let anyone shame him anymore.

Nilo sank until he could go no farther. He was too buoyant. His body was rejecting its watery grave. His body wanted to breathe fresh clean air. Nilo wanted to open his mouth and let his lungs fill with water and sink even deeper down into oblivion. He wanted to, but he could not make himself do it. He began rising, rising not because he wanted to but because of his body’s own natural buoyancy.

Something brushed briefly against Nilo’s leg, something big and wide and rough. The boy shuddered. Sinking peacefully to the bottom of the bay and dying gently was one thing, but being bitten and hacked and chewed to death bit by bit, piece by piece, by sharks or barracuda was something else again. Nilo kicked out at whatever had bumped into him and began frantically flailing his arms. He rose even faster than he had before. Once he began rising, his body took over from his mind: it had determined to live, regardless of what Nilo’s brain had been planning. He kicked even harder.

Nilo broke the surface of the sea at first without even knowing it. He took in huge gulps of air before he realized that he was breathing again. His eyes feasted on the moon and stars, as he thought that they had never been more beautiful, that life had never been more precious.

He trod water unthinking for almost a minute before he remembered that he did not know how to swim, before he remembered that to fall into the sea was automatically to drown, to die. The thought panicked him, and he began flailing the water again frantically, desperate for rescue and yet not desperate enough to call out for help lest Fredo or the Selvini brothers hear him and turn back to finish the job they had begun.

In his flailing, Nilo turned in a complete circle, and as he started halfway around again, he noticed only a few meters away the dark silhouette of the two tonnara boats riding high in the water.

Nilo forced himself to calmness. He could not stop his fear, but he could control it, prevent it from becoming panic. He tried treading water again and found that it worked. He was able to remain upright, in place. The only problem now, he realized, was how to get to the boats to keep from drowning.

But if he went back to the boats, Nilo told himself, he would be delivering himself once more into the hands of his assailants, and that was certain death. He would have to, somehow, get to shore. But that too was impossible. The shore was a mile away at its nearest point. He could never reach it.

He felt panic rising in his throat like a swollen lump of flesh, and he fought to keep from retching. Perhaps, he told himself, if he could get to the side of one of the tonnara boats and somehow hold on until the rest of the fishing crew returned from the wedding celebration, then maybe he could be rescued.

Nilo forced the top part of his body to lean in the water, toward the boats, and then tried to use his hands and arms to move forward, just as he had seen swimmers do. The distance was not great, but it seemed to take an eternity to traverse.

When he finally reached Fredo’s boat, he searched desperately for a safe handhold until he came upon the anchor line dangling overboard. He grabbed the coarse rope and held on with a fierce determination.

I am alive, God damn their souls. I am alive.

Time came and went. Minutes passed, then hours. Nilo could hear the sounds of drunken revelry from the three crewmen aboard the boat above his head, and while he waited, his determination just to survive grew and changed into an even more powerful desire for revenge.

Finally, Nilo grew aware of a change in the activity on the boat. He listened carefully for what was being said but could not make out the words. Then he knew what was happening. Paolo and Enzo were leaving the tonnara and taking one of the smaller rowboats to go back to shore to meet the partying fishermen after they returned from the wedding.

Nilo waited for the Selvini brothers to leave. A few minutes later, he heard snoring from above his head. Fredo had gone to sleep. Or passed out. Slowly, Nilo worked himself around the boat until he reached the stern, where he could hoist his upper body onto the gunwale and then pull himself completely onto the deck. He lay there on the wet cold wood, gasping and puffing, fearful that he would wake Fredo and yet not really caring if he did so. But Fredo did not wake.

Nilo crawled forward to the rack where the gaffs were kept and only then stood up. Most gaffs were hammered into a hook, but throughout the fishing season, Nilo had been using a straight spear with a sharp bladed barbed end. He quickly found that tool in the rack.

He crossed the small deck in three quick steps and positioned himself over the thin pallet where Fredo slept. Nilo gently prodded the older man with the point of his weapon.

Fredo stirred and Nilo prodded again.

“Who is it?” Fredo demanded thickly. “What do you want?”

Nilo did not answer at first. Then he said, “You, Fredo. I want you.”

Fredo sat up, still not fully aware of what was going on. Nilo did not give him a chance to say anything. He drove the gaff hard between Fredo’s legs. His aim was sure.

As neatly neutered as any capon or gelding, Fredo screamed, a horrible mixture of pain and anguish. He grabbed at the place where his manhood had been. Nilo laughed and slammed the end of the gaff pole into Fredo’s face. The burly man collapsed back into unconsciousness, and Nilo trussed him up with heavy fishing lines until the older man was immobilized. He took his folding knife from his pocket and slowly began to carve away on Fredo. For the first five minutes, the fisherman screamed, begging for mercy, begging for death, begging for Jesus and Joseph and Mary to help him.

By the time his screaming had stopped, there was hardly a strip of skin more than three inches wide anywhere on Fredo’s body that had not been sliced by Nilo’s knife.

The necessary deed done, Nilo sat back on the gunwale and quietly contemplated his work. Fredo was dead now or soon would be. That left Paolo and Enzo Selvini. The brothers would be more difficult, watching out for each other, protecting one another.

For them, I will need a weapon more powerful than a knife or a hook.

Nilo began looking through all the cabinets and lockers of the two boats. Occasionally, he had seen the owner on board carrying a lupara—a sawed-off shotgun—and that was what he was searching for. He finally found it hidden under the captain’s bunk. Now all he had to do was to get ashore and run Paolo and Enzo to ground.

Another dinghy was tied up to the other tonnara boat, and carefully holding the shotgun out of the water, he worked his way across the nets to the other fishing boat, clambered into the rowboat, locked the oars in place, and began pulling for shore.

*   *   *

TOMMY FALCONE COULD NOT STOP YAWNING. He tried and could not do it and became very annoyed with himself.

He rose from his bed and began pacing the floor of the hospital room. It was early afternoon now, and Doctor Singer and the homely nurse and a pair of burly orderlies had been coming and going all day.

He wondered where they were now and decided they were off drinking coffee somewhere. Or smoking. He wished he could get out of the room and see for himself.

So far, one day, and it had not been so bad. Maybe the doctor was right. Maybe he was not really a drug addict. Just a “morphinist.” Whatever that was. The doctor had to be right. He was not ever going to be a drug addict. It wouldn’t be fair, especially since it was not his fault. He had never asked for the morphine. They had just shoved the needle in him and kept pumping him full of the stuff all during that horrible three-day trip back from Belleau Wood to the hospital in Paris and then, afterward, during all the operations. It was not his fault.

God, but his nose was runny. He had lost track of how many handkerchiefs he had used already today, and now he needed another. He was amazed at how many disgusting fluids could come out of the human body, and he wondered how doctors and nurses could stand seeing it all.

A new set of handkerchiefs came, and somebody—an orderly and nurse he had not seen before—asked him how he was feeling, and Tommy told them that he felt just fine, really okay, there was no trouble.

He walked over to the window and looked out. Other patients were outside now, walking on the great green lawn, being pushed about in wheelchairs. He crossed himself and thanked God that he was not one of those poor souls who would never walk again. What kind of life did they have to look forward to? He considered himself lucky. All he had to do was to get through the next couple of days and then he would be free.

The breeze coming in through the window was surprisingly hot. Tommy felt weak and began to sweat. He shut the window and moved over to his bed and lay down on it. In a moment, the heat passed and Tommy felt cold. He started to shiver and his teeth chattered. That had not happened since he was a little kid. Tommy curled himself up in a ball, wrapping himself in blankets and burying his head in his pillow. He got colder and colder, and just when he thought he could not stand it anymore he felt a flash of heat pass through his body.

Tommy threw off the covers and got up, sitting on the edge of his bed. He sat quietly for a moment, feeling almost at peace with himself. Then his nose began running again. He dabbed away at it frantically, blowing into a handkerchief and disgusting himself with the mucus that filled the small piece of cloth and spread out over his hand. Annoyed, Tommy wiped his hand on his bedsheet, but his damned nose was already running again.

He tried to sit quietly, to fight down the rising panic, the ever-increasing disgust with his own body. When he thought he had things almost under control, something happened to his breathing. He could not get enough air. Nothing was coming through his nose.

It was probably normal, he thought. Probably to be expected.

He tried breathing through his mouth, but that did not do any good, either. His breath came in short, jerky gasps, and he suddenly knew, beyond any doubt, that he was going to die. He began to cry. He wanted to call for help. He wanted more morphine.

That’ll make this go away. I know it.

But he would not let himself call out. He concentrated hard on his breathing, working to make it normal, and to his surprise, he succeeded.

Then the chills started again. Tommy went back to the window, to the steam radiator in front of it, and tried to turn the heat valve. It did not work. Back to the bed, curling up in blankets, burying his head under his pillow, Tommy fell asleep.

He awoke with a start, fully and instantly awake. It was dark outside. His room was dark. The hospital around him was deathly silent except for some moans and screams somewhere far in the distance.

Tommy lay in bed for a moment, almost at peace with himself, and then began yawning again. The yawns grew bigger, more frequent, more demanding. In five minutes’ time, they had become so overpowering that it felt as if all the muscles in his neck were being stretched and pulled apart. He thought that this must be what a man feels when he is being hanged.

His jaws ached and then went on, beyond aching, to pure pain. Tommy began to shiver again. It was cold, so cold. The yawning stopped and he began to sneeze.

The first sneeze was not so bad. The second was a little worse. By the tenth—or was it the twentieth?—he felt as if his lungs were being ripped out through his mouth. His chest was heaving and the back of his head was aching, feeling as if it were being banged against a brick wall harder and harder with each sneeze. That too stopped just before dawn.

Tommy walked to the window to watch the sunrise. He tried to feel a moment of peace. He would have, too, except for the chills that he felt and the fact that his eyes would not stop watering.

He thought it still had not been too bad. And it had been a long time now. A week at least.

He wondered how much longer it would be until the withdrawal period was over.

He was considering that very question when he began to suffocate. Suddenly Tommy knew he was dying. Somebody had grabbed hold of his throat, from behind, and was collapsing the air passage. He let out a strangled cry for help and tried to turn to see who had hold of him.

Whoever it was had cleverly hidden himself, because there was no one in sight. Tommy began to cry and, when that did no good, to scream.

Someone came. He could never remember who. They moved him to his bed and stretched him out, covering him with two blankets. After a while, the suffocating feeling passed and Tommy sat up. Outside, birds were singing.

Tommy got up and began to walk to the window. He had gone no more than three steps when he felt a stabbing pain in his left foot. He hopped back to his bed and sat down. The pain was beginning to spread, sending spears of agony up his leg and into his groin. In a few minutes, his entire left leg was pulsating in wave after wave of stabbing cramps. Gradually they subsided, and Tommy, who had been biting his lips to keep from crying out, muttered a quick Hail Mary. It was the first time he had prayed since France, since he had been shot and carted back to the field hospital. After more than an hour, the pain in his left leg showed no sign of slackening. Then it was joined by pulsating cramps in his other leg as well. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the pain was gone.

Tommy sat quietly, afraid that if he moved even a muscle, he would start the whole thing over again. The door opened and the homely nurse came in again. He knew he had not seen her in weeks, maybe months, and today, she looked especially beautiful.

“Good morning, Tommy,” she said. “It’s a beautiful day out, isn’t it? Did you manage to get any sleep last night?”

“Where have you been?” he demanded. “I’ve been waiting for you for weeks.”

She shook her head sadly. “I only work the day shift, Tommy. I was here with you yesterday. And I’ll be here for you today. And as many days as I have to be.”

Tommy looked at her through bloodshot eyes.

She’s lying. It’s been two weeks at least. Of course, she’s lying. But I won’t let on that I know.

“How much longer?” he asked. “How much longer does this go on?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think it will be too long. And you’ll be glad when it’s all done. You’ll feel much better. Now eat your breakfast. I know about growing boys like you. I raised two of my own. So eat up.”

Meekly, Tommy obeyed. When he was done, the nurse removed his tray and Doctor Singer appeared at the door. Tommy was rising to greet him when the pain kicked him in the stomach. It was totally unexpected. It felt like a knife tearing through his guts while at the same time someone tightened a belt around him until he was squeezed into the shape of a barbell.

Singer helped Tommy stretch out on the bed, but it did no good. The pain grew worse and worse. The chills began again and then the sweats. The bedclothes, after a few minutes, looked as if they had been left out in the rain. The pains in his belly would not stop. Tommy turned on his side, trying to make it go away or at least abate. It did not help and, as he turned back, he could feel his breakfast coming up. He tried to hold it down but was unable to. Bits of egg and pancake and sausage and pineapple, all embedded in a thick yellow-green bile, erupted from him. Tommy jerked back, trying to miss the doctor, but was not successful.

When the doctor wiped Tommy’s face with a towel, the diarrhea started. And the chills again.

Tommy began to cry. He wanted more than anything to beg for another shot of morphine, anything to ease the pain, the suffering. But he would not let himself beg. He told himself that he would wait five minutes and then ask for it.

And when the five minutes were up, he made the same bargain with himself again. Wait five more minutes and then ask.

Periods of sheer agony alternated all day long with moments of respite. The physical pain kept getting worse and worse; the times of reprieve were never long enough.

When lunch came, Tommy tried to make himself eat, but as he brought the food to his mouth, its aroma set off another bout of vomiting and stomach spasms. He finally gave up the effort. He made himself drink a glass of water, but that only made the pain worse.

He tried then to make himself sleep, thinking that he could pass the worst of the time that way. But sleep never came. Instead, he began twitching all over, the muscles from one end of him to the other going into frantic spasms.

When the nurse came back to help, Tommy realized he had an erection and he turned on his side so she would not notice. She stroked his back and he ejaculated.

That seemed to ease the spasms in his legs, and the nurse left. Then the next wave of stomach cramps attacked.

It kept up all day, a constant replaying of the previous agonies.

Again and again, Tommy decided that in five minutes he would beg for a shot of morphine. Again and again, he delayed the begging. Again and again, he prayed. Again and again, he suffered.

At sunrise the next morning, there came one of those moments of near tranquility. Tommy felt little discomfort and went to the window once more to watch the dawn. But while he was looking outside, his vision doubled, then tripled, and then dissolved to a totally meaningless blur.

Tommy closed his eyes and cried. Then he called out. But not for morphine. He called out for his brother, Mario.

Then the pain came back, and he crawled across the floor to return to his bed, where he lay in his own vomit and wept and shivered.

One day.

Another day. And another.

On the evening of the fourth day, Tommy Falcone fell asleep.

*   *   *

NILO SESTA WOKE WITH A START. His tongue was thick in his mouth and he ached in every part of his body. The ache between his buttocks turned to pain and he wanted to cry out. But that would not do. A man, even an eighteen-year-old man, did not cry—at least, not because of physical pain. A broken heart, yes. Other things, perhaps. But not for physical pain.

Nilo carefully scanned the nearby shore. He was still in the rowboat he had taken the night before. He must have fallen asleep at the oars, and the boat had run aground on a deserted portion of beach. Perhaps he had passed out. He remembered what happened—the shame of it, the pain of it—and for a moment he said a prayer that it had all been a bad dream.

But it had not been. Nilo knew that and there was no use pretending.

Slowly, Nilo remembered Fredo and what he had done to the burly fisherman. He half-smiled at the memory.

The sun was coming up, far off to his right. He had drifted to the west during the night, drifted away from Castellammare and the men he had to kill. That was bad.

By now every fisherman along the coast must have learned that Fredo was dead, and they would all be looking for him, them and the Carabinieri and all of Fredo’s family.

I should have thrown his body overboard. Then no one would know what happened to him and I could have moved freely. I must be more careful in the future.

It was too late to worry about it. Nilo leaned forward in the small boat and carefully unwrapped the shotgun that he had bound in a piece of canvas sailcloth. He inspected it and then, satisfied, rewrapped it. He had no love for guns, but sometimes they were necessary. He remembered Fredo. The fisherman had loved guns, fondled and caressed them as other men might touch a woman. But not him, not Nilo. At least, not until now. But who knows? This gun may become my closest friend.

Nilo set the oars, eyed one of the old Saracen watchtowers more than a mile away, and began drawing slowly toward it. After a few minutes, he realized he was hungry. This surprised him. Thirsty he could understand: the body demanded water regardless of what indignities it had suffered. Thirst could not be controlled. But hunger was something else again. What he had gone through the day and night before should have driven all hunger from him, but it had not. Nilo thought of his mother’s kitchen, thought of the good things she cooked there, and wanted more than anything to be back in those familiar surroundings. It was not that he was babied or pampered. On the contrary: Nilo was an only child and often his mother and father seemed to treat him with disdain and indifference, causing him occasionally to wonder if he had been left with the Sestas as an infant and adopted.

Nilo beached the boat, then hid it between some huge sentinel-like rocks at the water’s edge. He climbed the hill leading to the road, moving rapidly in the early morning sun. If he was where he thought himself to be, he should make it back to Castellammare by noon, even allowing for keeping out of sight and moving through the brush away from the main road.

As he moved along, Nilo began to hum a tune, something he had known since infancy from hearing his mother, an old folk song that from its curiously flat melody must have been brought across the water by some of Sicily’s Arab invaders.

The farther he went, the more he noticed—as he rarely ever had before—the intense beauty of his home island. The trail he was following was edged in vines and cacti. Off to the side were clumps of bamboo and small stands of blue-green olive trees. The air around him hummed with the songs of massive yellow-banded bees, and thousands of butterflies seemed almost to provide a guard of honor for him. A little way off, Nilo could hear the faint whir of hummingbirds going about their lives, collecting sweet nectar from the flowers that bloomed here in every color and shade imaginable. The sun moved higher into the sky, and the air around him grew more and more heavily perfumed with the scents of thyme and other wild herbs.

It could have been paradise, Nilo thought, and could remember no time when he had felt more intensely alive. I have been treated like a woman and yet my heart is light.

It might, to some, seem strange, but Nilo understood the reason for it very well. He was Castellammarese. In other places, in other times, he would not have been expected to feel the way he did. But here, among the hills of western Sicily, there was no need for pretense. Especially in Castellammare del Golfo. The town, all said, had an evil reputation, even for Sicily. Somebody had once told him that eight out of ten men in the town had spent time in prison and that one out of three had taken another’s life. Those things might or might not be true, Nilo thought, but in his hometown there was, at least, no hypocrisy that prevented one from taking pleasure from a righteous killing. He had killed once already and was about to do it twice more.

As he walked, Nilo meditated about the pleasure of delivering death to someone who richly deserved it, then hummed another song, this one happier than the last.

Once the parish priest—and at this thought Nilo crossed himself—had tried to take him for the priesthood. Nilo was a good boy, he had said, and could go far in the church. But Nilo’s father would not allow it. The elder Sesta had some private quarrel with God, and he had sworn that he would rather be eternally damned than have any child of his go over to the enemy’s side.

It was a memory from childhood.

And now I am no longer a child. My childhood has ended.

He hardly noticed that he had arrived at the hill overlooking Castellammare. Trying to keep out of sight, he started down toward the center of town. Almost without guidance from him, his feet automatically led him along the various viccolos, the dark and narrow alleyways, leading to his home.

It was fortunate that they had. And it was equally fortunate that his feet stopped him before he turned into the last shadowed way.

Nilo stopped and unwrapped the lupara and moved forward with caution. His eyes, he later told himself, must have been directed by San Giuseppuzzi, his favorite saint, father of Jesus, protector of the family, patron and advocate of lost causes. Because ahead of him, their backs toward him and facing Nilo’s house, were Enzo and Paolo Selvini. Each held a shotgun in his hand. They must have been waiting for him, waiting to shoot him down as he came out of the door of his house.

Nilo walked slowly up behind them and spoke each of their names once, softly. They turned and Nilo fired. One shell for each brother. They went down, crying and cursing. Nilo carefully picked up their guns. Dead men had no use for guns.

*   *   *


Someone was wiping his forehead, not saying anything, not trying to be gentle. He could feel that the hand holding the cloth to his face was big and rough. Still, Tommy was grateful. He tried to open his eyes but had difficulty. They felt as if they had been glued shut. He moved slightly and immediately a ripple of nausea flowed up from his stomach.

The ripple became a wave and Tommy wanted to vomit. He tried, but nothing came. His body was wracked by shudders. He felt his bowels loosen and then he slipped back into oblivion.

Consciousness came back with a start. One moment Tommy was somewhere else, somewhere in some gentle dreamworld, and then he was awake and lying in his bed. He tried to sit up but could not. He was strapped down on the bed.

“Hello,” he said tentatively.

“Hello, Tommy,” somebody answered. “Welcome back.”

He knew the voice and then remembered the hands that had been wiping his brow.

He tried to open his eyes but quickly gave up. The daylight was too bright; it pierced his brain, stabbing right through his eyeballs. Whoever was beside him got up and walked away. Tommy heard the curtains being drawn, and even through his closed eyelids he could feel the room growing darker.

“You can open your eyes now, Tommy,” the voice said.

“Mario?” he asked. “Peppino?”

“It’s me, Tommy,” the voice said.

He opened his eyes slowly this time. Slowly they focused on the figure next to the bed, the man clothed in the familiar black cassock of the Catholic priest. He was not as tall as Tommy and was bulkier through the shoulders, and his hair was already thinning, but no one could have missed the brotherly resemblance between the two men.

“It is you,” Tommy said. “Does that mean I’m alive?”

He heard his brother’s familiar chuckle.

“If you can call what you’ve been through ‘living,’” Mario said, “then you’re alive.”

Tommy considered that for a moment before speaking.

“Mama. Papa,” he said. “Do they know what’s happened to me?”

Mario shook his head. “They don’t know, Tommy,” he said.

“Oh, Mario. I’m so ashamed of myself.” He began to cry.

The priest wiped his forehead and eyes with a fresh white cloth until he stopped crying.

“I know,” he said. “I know, Tommy. Now the hard part starts.”

Tommy stopped crying. He glared at his brother with a rapidly welling hatred.

“‘Hard part’? And just what the hell do you think this has been? A vacation? ‘Hard part’? Don’t start preaching at me about saving my soul, you high-and-mighty son of a bitch,” he shouted. “What do you know about it? Get out of here and leave me alone. You’re no brother of mine.”

The priest stood next to his brother’s bed, looking as if he wanted to speak, but he kept his silence, turned, and walked from the room.

Tommy closed his eyes but heard the sound of his brother’s shoes thudding on the floor. Priest’s shoes, Tommy thought, with cheap rubber heels that would last till the Second Coming of Christ.

But as the sound faded away, he opened his eyes and realized his brother had done nothing wrong. He called out Mario’s name, and when there was no answer, he began screaming curses, and when that did no good, he began crying. He cried himself to sleep. When he woke up again, Mario was there.

“I’m sorry,” Tommy said. “I’m really sorry that I’m a dope addict. More than you can know.”

“I know,” Mario said. “I know, Tommy. And there’s more to come.”

Tommy held his temper this time.

“He doesn’t know,” another voice said. “We haven’t had a chance to talk.”

Tommy turned to the new speaker, Doctor Singer, who stood in the open doorway.

“Good morning, sir,” Tommy said. He felt tongue-tied, at a loss for words, and blurted out, “I’m sorry if I vomited on you. Did it really happen? I’m sort of confused.”

Singer laughed. “It happened, but forget it, Marine. It goes with the job. And it’s not morning anymore. It’s afternoon.”

“It feels like morning to me,” Tommy said. He turned to his brother. “You’ve been here a long time?”

The priest looked toward Doctor Singer before nodding. “On and off, since just after you were injured.”

“Why don’t I remember?” Tommy asked. “I don’t remember seeing you.”

“There’s a lot you won’t remember,” Singer said. “That’s normal.”

Mario held his brother’s hand. “And I’ve been here the whole last week.”

“Why didn’t you come in and help me?”

The priest smiled. “He wouldn’t let me,” he said, nodding toward the doctor. Tommy turned to look at him.

“You had to beat it on your own,” Singer said. “No help, no crutches.”

“Did I beat it? Is it over?”

“For now.”

“Excuse me, sir,” Tommy said quickly, “but what does that mean, ‘for now’?”

“You’ve broken the chemical dependency,” Singer said calmly, “but remember, deep inside yourself, you’re a morphine addict. You always will be. Now you didn’t get that way because of your own decisions. We did it to you. So I think you can stay free of the stuff. If you want to. A lot of people can’t.”

“I want to,” Tommy said.

“Well, that’s a start.” The doctor turned his gaze toward the priest. “I understand you’re willing to take him under your wing for the next six months.”

Mario nodded.

“And you used to be a boxer?”


“Good. You can slap him around if he needs it.”

Mario smiled. “I always could,” he said.

“Not on your best day,” Tommy grumbled with a grin of his own.

“You’ve made those arrangements we talked about?” Singer asked the priest.

“I have.”

“Good, Padre. Good. Come by my office later. I’ll have his discharge papers all ready for you.”

Singer turned toward the door.

“Doctor? One question?” Tommy said.


“Where am I?”

“You’re still in France, Sergeant. A U.S. Army hospital. But you’re going back to the States.”

“Sergeant?” Tommy said. “I’m a private.”

“You were promoted.”

Tommy looked toward his brother. “Two sergeants in one family.” He saw the doctor’s puzzled look. “My father,” he said. “A police sergeant.”

“I was a chaplain captain,” Mario said. “I outrank both of you.”

Tommy laughed heartily for the first time in months that he could remember. “Tell that to Papa,” he said.

*   *   *

NILO SESTA STOOD for a moment, looking down at the bodies of the two Selvini brothers, surprised at the quantity of blood that poured from their bodies, streaming now, forming a puddle halfway across the alley.

Nobody could ever pay him back for what had happened to him on the tonnara boat, but Fredo and the Selvinis had made a down payment.

Above him, Nilo heard a wooden window shutter open slowly. He looked up at the window, saw an old woman there, and smiled. Soon, very soon, everyone in Castellammare del Golfo would know what had been done and who had done it. Everyone would know except the police, because no one would speak to them about it.

He thought for a moment about urinating on the men’s bodies.

That will make me as much an animal as they. And they are not worthy of my urine. He reached into the pockets of their loose-fitting pants, but neither man had any money.

Cradling all three shotguns in one arm, he walked quickly, almost defiantly, across the street, through the front door of his home.

*   *   *

NILO WAS TRYING TO CONSOLE his mother when his father came home, obviously summoned from his job in the nearby stone quarry, because it was still the middle of the afternoon.

The old man drew his son into another room, where Nilo told him all that had happened.

The old man nodded, then said, “You must flee. You must leave right away and go somewhere else to seek your fortune. If you do not, you will be killed. No matter how just your reasons, the law of the feud demands that you die.”

“Yes, Papa,” Nilo said, his spirits momentarily crushed. “But how? Where will I go?”

His father said, “To America. We have family there. Your mother’s brother has a good job in New York City. They will help.”

Nilo nodded. He had been hearing about his uncle Tony for as long as he could remember. Occasionally, Uncle Tony even sent them a little money.

“Hide in the cellar,” his father told him. “I will return shortly.”

Nilo knew better than to ask questions. He took one of the shotguns and went down into the dirt-walled room while his father scurried from the house.

Just an hour later, he was following the old man out the front door of the house. The bodies, he saw, had already been removed. Father and son hurried down the alley, then turned up toward the rocky headland that skirted the beach west of town.

It was a hard walk, scrambling over hills much of the time. Nilo carried with him an old basket his mother had prepared, filled with his meager wardrobe: two pairs of pants and three rough work shirts.

They walked briskly, passing long lines of high stone walls that seemed to have been built for no purpose. Finally they reached a clearing, and up ahead Nilo saw a pink palazzo sheltered on one side and on the rear by steep overhanging cliffs.

The elder Sesta stopped and looked his boy over. Finally, he nodded. “You are wrinkled but presentable. Fortunately, you have not blood on you.”

He hesitated, then held his son’s shoulders. Already, Nilo was taller than he. “You look every inch a man,” the father said gently.

“I feel that way, too, Papa,” Nilo said. “Who have we come to see?”

“A big man. Don Salvatore Maranzano. I did him a favor once. He will protect you.”

“Is he of the Mafia, Papa?”

“Such things are the gossip of women. It is enough to know that he is powerful here and he is powerful in the United States.”

Without warning, his father pulled the boy to him and kissed him sadly.

“I have never been much of a father to you,” he said. “Some men, sometimes … fatherhood is not…” He hesitated, seemingly unable to get out the words he wanted to say. Nilo saw that the man’s eyes were wet, and he fought back tears himself.

“Don’t cry, Papa. I will come back.”

He saw disbelief in his father’s eyes.

“Or better yet, Papa, you and Mama—you will come to America and live with me. I will be very rich and very famous. You will see. Then you can come and live with me in my palazzo.”

His father smiled. “I wish that for you, Danilo. I wish that for you with all my heart.”

*   *   *

IN THE GATHERING GLOOM OF NIGHT, the palazzo looked like an old relic, but up close, it was obvious to Nilo that it had been immaculately maintained by a sensitive, loving hand.

A rough-looking servant must have been waiting for Nilo and his father to arrive, for they had only to rap once on the door before it swung open for them.

The servant led them along a cloistered walkway, around a central courtyard filled with heady-smelling flowers, and into a large, sparsely furnished room. The room glowed with the light of hundreds of candles. Along the walls were original oil paintings, both large and small, showing scenes from the lives of Jesus and his saints.

To one side was a long, carved, Spanish-style dining table heaped with foods of a variety and richness Nilo had never even dreamed of before, and seated at the table were two people: a woman who was strikingly beautiful, though well past first youth, and a man wearing the simple black cassock of a religious.

The man rose to greet them. To Nilo, he looked about fifty. He was handsome and his expression was pleasant enough, but he had cautious eyes and thin, tight lips that looked as if they would never knowingly entertain a smile. He nodded respectfully to Nilo’s father and then turned to the boy. This must be the powerful Don Salvatore Maranzano, Nilo thought. But why would a powerful man dress in priest’s robes?

“Nemo est tam fortis quin rei novitate perturbetur,” the man said.

Nilo did not understand what had been said or what his response was supposed to be. The man laughed; despite his dour visage, it was a warm, friendly laugh, and Nilo felt heartened. This man means me no harm.

“Ah, Nilo,” the man said, “I see you do not know the language of our forefathers, the Romans.”

“No, sir.”

The man smiled. “What I spoke was from the words of Julius Caesar. You have heard of him, I trust?”

“I think so, sir.”

From the corner of his eye, Nilo was watching the woman, who seemed to be enjoying her companion’s dialogue with the boy. Nilo thought he had never seen a more desirable woman in his life. He wanted to have her, her and the house with all its beauty. He wanted that and to be able to speak of Julius Caesar, too. He was just beginning to realize exactly how many things in life he truly wanted.

And this priest who is not a priest has them all, he thought. So why not me? Perhaps without wanting to, Fredo and the Selvini brothers have done me a favor. I hope it is so. That will be even better than pissing on their dead bodies.

“It is from Caesar’s book of war commentaries,” the man said. “Caesar says: ‘No one is so courageous as not to be upset by an unexpected turn of events.’ What do you think of that?”

Nilo hesitated and glanced toward his father, who was standing off to the side, uncomfortably twisting his hat in his hands.

“Go ahead, boy; speak,” the man said.

“Well, sir,” Nilo said, “it seems just like common sense. Unless it means something I don’t understand.”

“What it means is that you should not feel bad about being afraid right now. That fear will pass.”

“But I am not afraid, sir,” Nilo said.

“No. I guess you’re not.” The man laughed yet again, then turned to the elder Sesta.

“You have done a good job of raising the boy,” he said. “I am in your debt. Danilo will stay here with me tonight. Tomorrow he shall start on his journey.”

Nilo’s father hesitated, and the man in the priest’s robe said soothingly, “Do not worry yourself. He will be among his kind. I myself am returning to New York soon and I will look after the fortunes of all us Castellammarese. You may count on it.”

“Yes, Don Salvatore,” the old man said. He came forward and put his arms around his son.

“Live a good life, boy,” he said.

“I will, Papa. I will be very good,” Nilo said.

Don Salvatore Maranzano laughed again.

A warm spring breeze blew through the open windows.

• In New York City, Ignazio Saietta was beginning to dream great dreams. For more than twenty years, working under the name of “Lupo the Wolf,” he had been squeezing money under threat of violence from Italian immigrants in the city, and his Black Hand extortion racket had become the city’s most profitable. This was because Lupo had earned his reputation as one of the most bloodthirsty killers in city history, and police one day would find in his stable at 323 East 107th Street the bodies of sixty people, murdered by Lupo when they would not pay up.

    For the last few years, Lupo had been expanding his business into loan-sharking, prostitution, hijacking, and robbery, but his big intellectual moment came in 1919 when he decided that counterfeiting would be an even easier way to make money than extortion was.

    The Secret Service caught him, and Lupo was sentenced to thirty years in prison. Control of his rackets passed into the hands of one of his chief lieutenants, Giuseppe Masseria, a chubby, cherubic-looking man whose innocent appearance masked the fact that he was as cold-blooded a killer as Lupo ever was. As “Joe the Boss,” Masseria quickly became New York City’s crime overlord. Anyone foolish enough to oppose him was left dead in the streets.

• The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting the manufacture or sale of alcohol in the United States was approved.

• The best-selling book in America was The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.


Copyright © 2015 Warren Murphy.

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Warren Murphy was born in Jersey City, where he worked as a reporter and editor. After the Korean war, he drifted into politics, “but when everybody I worked for went to jail, I thought God was sending me a message to find a new line of work.” The first Destroyer novel followed soon after.


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