Knowing only too well of Carlo’s murderous temper, Salvatore had thought long and hard about returning to California after the incident in Italy for fear of what his friend’s reaction might be. After all, no matter how much he changed the facts to suit his own needs, the simple truth was that he had been responsible for Maria at the time of her death.
In the end though, Salvatore decided to roll the dice and put faith in their friendship and fortunately his gamble had paid off. He felt certain though that Carlo had not been entirely convinced by his tale and knew that he had lost much of Liuzzi’s trust because of it. He also knew it would take a great deal of effort to win it back.
But Salvatore was not the man he once was. Three years earlier he had been fit, healthy and in the prime of his life with one eye on the Liuzzi fortune and a keen desire to be its next keeper.
Now though, he was afflicted with ill-health, had a gammy leg and a lifeless hand. The fight had left him, or at least temporarily and his designs on Carlo’s fortune had, for the time being, faded along with his friend’s trust.
In short, the madness of his acts in Italy had ruined his life leaving him permanently damaged and filled with resentment for all the good things Liuzzi had.
However, as Carlo left Ava in the care of the maid and headed back towards the veranda to join him, Salvatore put a smile on his face and slipped easily back into role of ’friend.’ Only time would tell if he ever became a trusted one again. And if he did, well maybe by then his health would have improved and his current apathy might have lifted.
“She’s beautiful isn’t she?” Said Carlo, referring to Ava, his Italian accent almost non-existent now after years of vocal training.
“She is indeed,” replied Salvatore, his accent still very much in evidence. “Not sure about the horse though – I’ve seen bigger rats!”
“Haha, it’s not a horse, Salvo, it’s a pony – but yeah, you might be right”.
“Hey, horse, pony, they’re all the same to me – just big dumb animals that leave a trail of shit wherever they go!”
“That’s true. But have you ever seen Ava more happy?”
Salvatore had scarcely seen Ava at all as he did everything he could to keep out of the brat’s way, but from where he was sitting she had looked far from happy when sitting on top of the pony. However, he thought it best not to mention it and said instead, “No, I haven’t.” Then added, “But I thought you were gonna buy the kid a nag for her birthday – when she was three you said, so what happened? That’s not for a couple more months is it?”
Suddenly Salvatore saw Liuzzi’s mood change, as if a switch had been flipped in his brain and the jovial, happy Carlo transformed into the psychotic, crazy one. When dealing with him, it was a very fine balance and Falcone immediately knew that he had pushed the conversation too far.
“What happened?” Carlo echoed. “I couldn’t resist, that’s what happened. She’s a beautiful little girl, this is my wedding day and I thought I’d buy the kid a little present – that okay with you?”
“Hey, Carlo, that’s great, just great – you’re right, she’s a beautiful kid – you’re a very lucky man. The horse was a fantastic idea.”
“It’s a fucking pony!” Yelled Liuzzi with unexpected violence, the loud outburst causing the people working on the wedding to stop and stare at the two men on the veranda. “How many goddamn times you gotta be told? And are you sure it’s a fantastic idea? I mean, God forbid I have to ask your fucking permission!”
Salvatore raised his hands in defeat, “Sure, Carlo, of course. You’re right, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—” And then the coughing began. Deep, breathless coughs that prevented Falcone from saying anymore as he bent over in his chair and hacked away at the floor, little specks of blood spattering the flagstones and his shiny black shoes. Quickly he produced a clean white handkerchief from his pocket and brought it up to his mouth to catch the spittle.
“Ah, that’s right, cough it up, goddamnit! Just when you’re about to apologise. It really sticks in your fucking throat doesn’t it?”
Liuzzi was looking at Falcone incensed, the red rage of anger still burning within him, his temper not yet spent. But Salvatore was too occupied with the coughing fit that had suddenly overtaken him to pay attention. This only served to infuriate Carlo more and he was just about to launch into another manic tirade when he noticed bright, wet blood on Salvatore’s handkerchief. Then more of it on the floor and on his shoes.
As quickly as it erupted, the anger left him and he became instantly attentive, his voice suddenly full of concern.
“Oh, my dear friend, I’m so sorry. Are you alright? Please tell me.” He begged.
Salvatore looked up at him and nodded although his eyes were watery and blood was dribbling down his chin. But still the fit did not relent as he continued to cough and fight for breath.
“Quick, one of you!” A shocked Carlo shouted at the effeminate pair chasing the swans, “Fetch this man a glass of water – do it now, this second!”
Both men ran off in the direction of the house, eager to comply with the very angry, very frightening looking gentleman on the veranda.
By the time they had returned, each of them holding a glass of water, Salvatore just about had the coughing fit under control.
“Thank you,” Carlo said, once more charm personified. “Now please, don’t let us keep you from your duties.” The two men took their cue and hastily made their retreat, leaving Liuzzi and Salvatore alone once more.
“Here, my friend,” Carlo said, proffering Salvatore a glass, “Drink. It’ll make you feel better.”
Salvatore took it eagerly, still wheezing heavily but only coughing slightly now in between breaths. “Thanks,” he said hoarsely before taking a sip. Then another.
“I had no idea this disease of yours affected you so badly,” Carlo remarked.
“Only sometimes. When I get excited,” said Salvatore, dabbing his mouth with the bloodied handkerchief. “It’s been worse. Just something I’ve got to live with I guess.”
Carlo had not seen first hand the effects of the illness that regularly seemed to ail his friend. He had known him to spend days in bed or be out of breath sometimes but he had dismissed it all rather off-handedly, thinking that Salvatore may have been feigning to somehow prove how much he had suffered in his attempt to save Maria. But the blood on the hanky had not been faked, it was real and it had made Carlo think again about what his friend had been through.
Carlo sat with Salvatore as he drained the glass of water and studied him as he drank. It was the first time he had really looked at him since he had returned from Messina almost three years ago when he was still reliant on a walking stick and a sling. When Carlo, himself, was still numb from the death of his daughter as he fought to suppress any emotions he may have felt about her passing. He had known then that Salvatore was ill and that his injuries were severe but somehow in the intervening years he had dismissed them; forgotten about them even. And in suppressing his emotions he had also suppressed his trust.
Looking at his friend now he suddenly felt guilty.
Salvatore had always been lean and slender but he was skinny now, just a bag of bones really. He looked pale and ill, his pallor grey and sickly. Then there was the dead hand; useless and unmoving. Previously Liuzzi had not really considered this a disability as it looked normal enough and did not seem to hinder too much but upon reflection he realised what an awful injury it was. He imagined for the first time how much his own life would change if he only had the use of one hand.
He had never previously really believed Salvatore’s tale about how Maria died but now he felt forced to reconsider. Surely no one would go through so much if they did not have to. Had he misjudged his old friend? Perhaps maybe, in retrospect, he had.
“Salvo”, he suddenly said, “You must forgive me”.
“For what, for that?” Replied Salvatore, referring to Liuzzi’s recent outburst. “Hey, please, don’t worry about it – I was way out of—”
“No, Salvo, you misunderstand,” interrupted Carlo, “You must forgive me for the lack of respect I’ve shown you over the last three years and for the doubts I’ve had about you. I’ve done you a huge disservice, my friend, and for that I humbly apologise.”
Salvatore was stunned and had no clue as to where this was coming from. Carlo’s behaviour had always been somewhat erratic and his mood swings were legendary but this – where on earth was it coming from and why now?
“Er, thank you, Carlo”, Falcone said, a little dumbfounded. “That’s very generous of you and, of course, I accept”.
“No, that’s not good enough,” Liuzzi said, a brilliant idea flashing into his mind. “Not only must you accept but you must stand beside me at the wedding this afternoon and be my best man”.
“But I thought you and Mildred had agreed not to have a best man?” Said Salvatore, still reeling with shock.
“We had, but I’m changing the plan.” Carlo was extremely animated now as the idea blossomed in his head. “Now say you’ll do it. As my best and longest friend I demand that you say yes.”
“Er, yes. Yes, of course I will,” grinned Salvatore at last standing and shaking Carlo’s hand. “I’d be very proud to indeed”.
Liuzzi pulled his friend towards him and embraced him warmly. “Thank you, my friend. You do me a great honour,” he said.
Salvatore hugged him back. He said nothing but the cogs in his brain were already whirring. Perhaps it would not take so long to regain Carlo’s trust after all.
Continues tomorrow or download the complete novel here