Carlo Liuzzi stood with his back to the room, all eyes on him. There was silence for a long moment, as the gears whirred in his brain. After maybe a minute or so, he walked through to his study and retrieved something from his desk drawer. With the mystery object concealed behind his back, he returned to the library and said in a voice only slightly louder than a whisper, “Salvo, ask all of my party guests to leave would you? Tell them that my wife has been taken ill and that I cannot leave her side. Get them out as quickly as you can but do not alarm anyone. Get the staff out, too.”
“Of course, capo,” replied Salvatore, addressing Liuzzi as he would have back in New York when the movie mogul was Carmine Carboni’s consigliere.
“Vito?” Said Carlo.
“Watch the Jew.”
“Si, capo,” replied Vito, also using the same Italian form of address whilst pulling out a .38 from the back of his pants. He aimed it at Ira’s head whilst Salvatore returned his own 9mm to its shoulder holster and exited the library.
Carlo then smiled genially and addressed the room, seemingly unconcerned that he was caked in blood and the brutally disfigured body of the boy he had just murdered was lying at his feet. “Whilst we wait for the house to empty, so that we might be afforded a little more privacy,” he said, licking away a stray dribble of Donnie’s blood which had run down onto his lips, “I’d like to tell you a story, if you would permit me.”
No one uttered a word in reply. The three remaining boys were all weeping silently, grieving for their dead friend and seriously fearing for their own lives. Mildred had stopped crying now and was just staring glassy-eyed at the mutilated mush that used to be Donnie’s face. She had begun to shiver uncontrollably as the shock of what she had just witnessed fully hit her. Nothing that she said, nothing that she did, would ever change what had transpired or, indeed, what was still yet to happen, as that was already a forgone conclusion. So why not let her husband talk – there was nothing she could do to stop him anyway.
Taking his cue from the silence, Carlo started to speak. “When I was a small boy I lived with my father in a tiny fishing village in the south of Sicily.” He began. “My mother died in childbirth so I lacked a woman’s guiding hand. We were very poor and my father, a fisherman by trade, was often away for many days at a time trying to earn enough to put food on the table, whilst I was left alone to fend for myself.
“Well, as you can imagine, I grew up wild and undisciplined, but I was tough, too. Very tough indeed. I fought for any extra scraps that I could find and stole whatever else that I needed. It was a very… how do you say?” He searched for the right phrase for a moment and when he found it he smiled. “Ah, yes – it was a very hand to mouth existence. But I hated being poor and hated my father for not being a wealthy man. What can I say, I was an ungrateful child, but such is life. I am not proud of it, but I simply believed I deserved more.
“One day, a man of considerable affluence came to the village – an Arab; a Turk, in fact. He was dressed in brightly coloured robes of green and orange silk and wore a red turban on his head. He had a deeply tanned face and a black pointed beard that smelled of perfumed oils, I recall. Tied around his waist was a thick silken sash, also bright red, and tucked into it was a long curved dagger in a jewel encrusted scabbard.
“I remember watching the Turk showing the dagger to my father as they drank wine together, with many of the other men in the village, on that sunny afternoon. As he pulled it from the sheath, there was an audible gasp from the assembled crowd. My father was particularly impressed and the Turk allowed him to hold it.
“The dagger had a carved gold handle, which had clearly been decorated and finely worked by a master craftsman. It sparkled in the sunlight and appeared to be embedded with tiny diamonds and larger emeralds and rubies. The long blade was forged from Damascus steel, as I learned later, sharpened on both edges and lovingly oiled and polished to a bright, gleaming shine.
“It was the most magnificent thing I had ever laid eyes on and I wanted it immediately. More than that, I knew I absolutely had to possess it. In my mind, it already belonged to me.
“The Turk was a trader, en-route to Genoa or Florence or some other such place to do business and was staying in our village, at the local taverna, for a few days rest.
“Nonetheless, that night, when the whole village was sleeping, I snuck into the Turk’s room and took the dagger. Elated, I ran home in the darkness and hid it, wrapped in an old cloth, at the back of our wood pile where I was convinced no one would find it.”
Briefly, Carlo paused in his monologue and grinned broadly, the whiteness of his teeth contrasting brightly with the deep red of his gruesome, bloodied face. “Hey, I was young and stupid, what can I say?” He said, before continuing. “Anyway, I hid the dagger but next morning the Turk and many of the villagers came knocking at my father’s door, remembering his keen interest in the weapon. He denied everything of course but after the most rudimentary of searches the dagger was soon found.
“My father was— what’s the word that you Americans use?” Again, he thought for a moment, then said, “Yes. ‘Flabbergasted’. My father was flabbergasted and loudly and violently protested his innocence. But no one believed him – he had been caught, as they say, red-handed.
“They took my father and bound him to a tree in the village square and then sent for the capofamiglia – the head of the local Cosa Nostra which you Americans might better understand as the Mafia.”
Upon hearing that word both Bobby and Wyatt looked up at Liuzzi, their eyes still wet with tears and their faces ashen with terror. But as Carlo met their gaze they quickly looked away.
“Ah, gentlemen, I see you recognise the term, so you know what weight this man carried amongst the people of our village. As for myself, I remember Don Pio Allegretti, for that was his name, as a fat, pompous man who wore a white fedora and a red, silk cravat. He was a bloated, flabby peacock who I certainly didn’t respect. Nevertheless, this self-important oaf passed judgement on my father – there was no trial, no hearing, no opportunity for him to defend himself. He was simply pronounced ‘guilty,’ just like that—” Carlo snapped his fingers to demonstrate. “What was the sentence Don Allegretti deemed suitable for this most heinous of crimes, you might wonder? Well, the answer to that, gentlemen, is stoning.
“That very afternoon, as I watched amongst the amassed crowd, my father was stoned to death in front of my eyes. However, my thoughts were not with him, but with the Turk – or more specifically, with the dagger. All I cared about was getting it back.
“After the stoning, the crowd dispersed and I was left alone. No one cared about me – to them I was just a wild, untamed animal. I didn’t blame them as I had given them no reason to like me but the fact remained that I was now on my own and I had to make a future for myself.
“That night, I visited the Turk again. He had not learnt his lesson from the night before and the dagger was in full view on his bedside table, unguarded as he slept. As the Turk snored soundly, my father’s death of no consequence to a man such as he, I knew that I had to make the dagger mine permanently and could not risk losing it again. The Turk would surely come looking for it when he awoke and this time it could be me tied to the tree. So I slid the blade out of the scabbard and admired it as it shone in the moonlight. Then I held it against the Turk’s neck and slit his throat.”
Carlo paused here for dramatic effect, before adding, “I was eight years old.”
At this point Mildred turned and looked at him, stunned. She knew very little of her husband’s past and had never heard this tale before. It shocked her – on a night when she thought she had experienced all the shock a person could take.
Carlo continued, “It was my first ever kill and it felt strangely good. The Turk had taken what I knew rightfully belonged to me and he paid the ultimate price.
“After that, however, I had one more person to visit. Using only the light of the moon, I left the village and took the mountain path high up into the hills where Don Allegretti’s spectacular villa looked out over the bay. The guards were all asleep and it was simple for a small boy to slip into the grounds unobserved. Quickly I was inside the villa itself, my bare feet silent on the tiles as I searched for Don Allegretti’s bedroom. I found it soon enough and approached the huge four-poster bed where the fat fool slept. There was no guard, no security, it was easy.
“I took the dagger from my pocket and carefully climbed up onto the bed – I was just skin and bone, so weighed not enough for him to notice. Nevertheless, as I pulled the dagger from it’s sheath it made just the tiniest sound of metal on metal and Don Allegretti’s eyes flew open. He saw me there, over him, with the dagger raised but, as he opened his mouth to scream, I stabbed down into it, pushing the curved blade down his throat, silencing him for ever.
“The man had killed my father, whom I hated, but he was my father, he belonged to me and nobody was going to take what belonged to me ever again.”
Carlo looked at the three boys before him, the significance of what he had just said not lost on any of them. “I see you understand me, gentlemen,” he said. “But let me finish my story, I owe you that much at least.
“I left Don Allegretti’s villa as silently as I’d entered it, not disturbing a soul, and again took to the mountain path. I walked all night and most of the next morning until I reached another villa in a neighbouring territory that was governed by yet another wealthy capofamiglia whose family had been locked in a bitter feud with the Allegretti family for many years.
“This man, however, was much more honourable than his adversary, with a widely respected reputation. His name was Don Caseareo Liuzzi—” Mildred shot him a glance. “—Ah, I see, Mildred, you recognise the name.
“Well, as I say, I went to Don Caseareo and told him all that I’d done. Can you imagine it? An eight year old boy who had just killed two men – one of them a capo? My God, I must have had balls of steel! Anyway, I told Don Caseareo everything and said that if he wished to take over Allegretti’s territory then now was the time to do it.
“He laughed at me and asked me what I required in payment for this information and for this service I had done for him.
“I told him simply that I wanted two things; the dagger and a home. He granted me both and in the years that followed he gave me much more than I could ever have hoped for – his guidance, an education, even enough money to buy my passage to America when the time came for me to leave him.
And when I did, I took his name also.
“Don Caseareo became the father I always wanted; the father I deserved.
“And all of this because I fought for what was mine.”
Carlo then showed them all what was concealed behind his back and held it out to show them.
“Because I fought for this dagger,” he said proudly.
It was just as he had described; truly magnificent with a jewel encrusted handle and a long curved blade. Bobby, Wyatt and Ira all felt compelled to look and even through their terror, they could not fail to be impressed. “It is my most prized possession and I cherish it above anything else. More than my house, more than my fine automobiles and certainly more than my wife – which I’m sure you young gentlemen can now understand. With it, I have killed many men, most recently my daughter’s lover, who tried to steal her from me, and his unfortunate friend.”
Carlo paused again, admiring the dagger with an almost insane reverence – as if it was the Holy Grail itself, before adding, “Tonight I will use it again.”
Continues tomorrow or download the complete novel here