The Gift of Power by Dan McNamara - HTML preview
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God gives the gift of life. Satan gives the gift of power.
Dr. Randy Denson spent weeks anticipating this moment. He is not ready.
He nervously peers through the crack of the door and silently watches the old man and his younger male companion begin to stand, ready to leave the hotel’s small ballroom.
Denson is affixed, his mind torn. Here they are right in front of him. The old man must be the puppeteer, the kind of evil he promised his dying wife he would root out and put to an end. The other, the assassin sent by the old codger to kill him and Steng only days ago.
“What on earth...?” He’s stunned as the companion pulls his gun out and points it directly at his presumed boss.
Denson’s instincts overrule all logic. He draws his pistol from his denim shorts and throws himself into the room, assumes his best Jack Bauer stance and stammers out his command, “S-s-top. Police. Lower your weapon. I’ll sh-shoot!”
“What the hell are you doing here?”Rasoone is clearly bewildered. And annoyed.
Avery ignores Denson and interjects calmly, “Ah, Ras, excuse me, but I’ve got a few questions. Like, who is this clown, why is he here, why did you pull a gun on me? Questions of that nature.”
“It’s Denson, the CSI guy. I don’t know how or why he’s here.” Ras keeps his gun pointed at the ancient’s forehead.
“And why is your gun aimed at me?”
“Oh...that...I’m going to kill you.”
Denson thrusts his gun forward, astonished he isn’t being taken seriously. His pleas to God for more confidence are ignored,
“N-no you’re not. If you shoot him, I’ll sh’shoot you. I’m not good enough to maim you. I’ll have to g-go for your upper body.” Denson has never stuttered in his life.
“You’re going to take me down? Are you crazy?” Ras intended to speak unemotionally, as always, but can’t help himself, “If you shoot me and arrest him, your family, your friends, will die. This is fuckin’ Avery Perelle!”
Denson never heard the name before, but his suspicions are confirmed. The hairs on the back of his hands start to rise, signaling his body is about to panic, or go into cardiac arrest.
He knows the man is correct. It will be pointless to arrest Perelle. He has no evidence. Avery Perelle will walk and all he will have, if he has the guts to use the weapon chattering in his hands, is a wounded or dead assassin.
“You’re the one,” Denson speaks to Avery while keeping his eyes on Ras, “I know it in my soul.” Salty drops are dripping from brow to lashes as he cranks his torso and pistol toward Avery.
Ras is amused by Denson’s dilemma. As if he just noticed him, Avery finally speaks to him from a lifetime of cynicism, “Go ahead, shoot me. I’m seventy-five years old. I don’t care any more.” Avery means it. Yet he doesn’t.
Denson hesitates, questioning himself, “What the hell am I suppose to do now?”
Ras’s gun has never wavered, steadily aimed at Avery. He’s getting frustrated, knowing it’s time to take both of the old farts down and get out of here. His pause matters. All hell breaks loose.
Trevella appears a kind, elderly man who would not be considered a threat except for the frequent jerking of his head, most noticeably when holding his Model 31 Remington pump shotgun across his lap. Intentional or not, the tic is an effective dissuasion to approaching him while at his post, which is essentially all of the time.
He lives in a small one-room shack directly outside the wet rotted gate blocking the onehundred meter path to the main villa of Giorgio and Angelina Perillo. His chair creaks in the key of B-flat as he rocks on his porch, until he turns it away from the setting sun, then it transposes to A-flat, an important transition since the trumpet in his head cannot reach the apogee of Vivaldi’s concerto in its original key, thus saving it for twilight.
He committed his life to protecting Giorgio after Caporetto in Slovenia in ’17, eighteen years ago. Travella wasn’t the ‘last man standing’ among his eleven thousand dead Italian comrades, in fact, he wasn’t standing at all. He was laying in the dirt, his legs and arms disenfranchised from weeks of running, squatting, treading across the Tagliomento, firing, ducking, hiding. The battle had ended, his face pressed against the sunken ground, using cupped handfuls of loose earth to filter the remnants of German mustard gas suspended, hovering above him. He was awaiting his fate, destined to be one of two-hundred and fifty thousand prisoners captured, abused, tortured, shamed.
Someone dragged the carcass of an infantryman and placed it atop him, then another and another. He dared glance and saw Giorgio for the first time, stooping to gasp for air before continuing. Three more bodies were crudely strewn, covering Travella entirely. Giorgio crawled under this blanket of lost hope and pulled over a final corpse. He snuggled against Travella’s backside, sharing brief pockets of oxygen, each choosing to alternate their breathing through their mouths or nostrils, opting the taste of emptied bowels and bloody decay over the smell, then vice-versa. They laid together for three hours while gas-masked German soldiers poked and prodded, collecting the less hopelessly wounded, gathering them in circles hundreds deep. The very corpses that sheltered the two Italian strangers were stuck with a bayonet each time an enemy soldier passed, each time discovery a prayer away.
A fresh hard rain was a blessing, cleaning the air, making slippery the earth, forcing the Germans to stop their hunt and collection efforts and abandon the field. Giorgio pushed on the body directly on top of him, raising it up like a coffin-lid, freeing him to start inching away in the slimy mud. Travella was close behind imitating Giorgio’s marine crawl. They reached the end of the red-stained pasture, rose to their feet among the trees and brush and searched for a path in direction of an Italian camp.
“Why did you cover me? Why not only yourself?” Travella asked the young corporal as they stumbled onto a clay-packed trail heading north, hopefully on the right course.
“I didn’t do it for you. It was for me. I needed to connect with a life so I could lay there among the dead without panic.”
Travella didn’t believe him.
The Sabato River Valley is lined with citrus fruit trees and grape plantations, providing a transcendental atmosphere that must be inhaled to appreciate. Surrounded by the Apennines and blessed with abundant rainfall, the Campania Region, including the town of Avellino is a pristine section of southwestern Italy. In 1935, Giorgio owns several of the lush valley’s vineyards, distributing Taurasi, Greco, and Fiano di Avellino, some of Italy’s more distinguished whites. He is the wealthiest man in Avellino, unashamed of the years he spent ruthlessly breaking the smaller growers and consolidating his holdings.
Travella protects the front. An obscure path serpentines through the dense thorny brush at the rear making this approach to the villa clumsy, painful. Giorgio is always armed, cockily confident he can stop anyone who might trespass. Besides, everyone knows better than to threaten Giorgio Perillo.
He is the local villain who broadcasts his Sicilian heritage at every opportunity. At age forty-four, with Shinola-tinted temples and a protruding gut crammed into a laced-up girdle, he struts through town weekly, amused by the women and girls who stare at him as he marches past. He assumes they are gazes of desire. Dread would be more accurate.
“ Ti voglio bene, Greco, you have missed me, I know. My cousins in Palermo send their wishes.” says Giorgio as he marches past the village butcher.
Greco stops grinding bones of lamb and grins and nods to excess, picturing Perillo’s scooped out skull upside down next to his bench, a prized, wobbly spittoon he fills with delight, aided by family and fellows, “Ah, Giorgio, we have all counted the days you were gone.”
“Days? It’s been weeks. I am a king in Palermo, you know. It is always difficult to leave my Sicilian family, gathering, crying---”
“I can imagine, Giorgio. Stop by on your walk home, I will have fresh brains wrapped for you, for your wife to enjoy. Ciao.” Greco is careful not to mention the new birth in the Perillo household. He values unbroken limbs.
Thirty-four year old Angelina ‘pops’ the head off a rooster with a single, firm yank and drains the blood of the bird into the earth before bringing it inside and dropping it into bubbling water. The feathers pull off easily, except the stubborn pin-feathers underneath. It takes her practiced fingers twenty minutes to pry them out, one by one.
In her bath, she stands and washes her body using a fresh sponge and a bowl of yesterdays grey, soapy water, blessedly not yet used by her husband, her infant sleeping an extended-arm’s distance away. Her stretch marks are worse this time, expanding their geography, mapping uncharted trails from her legs and belly and onto her milk-bottle breasts. She rubs them with imported coconut oil, a family solution that has never helped.
Her fresh, bleach-white underwear is covered by a front-laced, embroidered dress with a black-worked scarf around her shoulders. She inspects herself, tightening her breast bindings with a groan to uplift her sagging shape. She twirls her large red-beaded necklace for the mirror’s pleasure and feels for a moment more attractive than she has in months. “No,” she scolds her ‘inner-Angie’, “the puffiness under your eyes is ...” Exhaustion has overcome her since giving birth to their son five days ago. Averado was an unexpected child, arriving ten years after his sister, Cantalisa.
The Perillo’s massive dining room, filled with Lacca Povera cabinetry is little more than a showplace, a loose term since the prospect of friends enabling her to ‘show’ the ‘place’ is impossible to imagine. Giorgio insists on eating at an inherited, cracked zebra wood kitchen table each night precisely at 7:00, one of many traditions imposed by him on his small family.
Young Cantalisa wriggles in her seat waiting for her time to speak as Mama serves Papa the tortelloni ricotta and spinaci handmade hours earlier. Giorgio pours himself a third glass of wine while Angelina butters his thin, snowy-white crusted bread, serves Cantalisa and herself, checks on Averado in his crib alongside her chair, and settles down to eat.
It is always quiet during these first several minutes, the sound of chewing and the clanking of knives and forks against stoneware is rhythmic, tense, accompanied now by an occasional purr from the nest of the new arrival.
The almost-silence is sustained until Giorgio sets down his shovel-fork long enough to nod his completion of the first course, which is the cue for Cantalisa to stop squirming and tell them about her day. Both parents listen with orchestrated smiles.
“I have the most exciting news!” Cantalisa beams, “Miss Scalia selected me to be in this year’s play that will be performed in front of the villagers. I will be a butterfly,” she tilts her head back and looks down on them as if floating from above and expounds, “bringing the beauty of the wild to the princess locked away in her castle.”
“That is magnificent, my sweet flower,” Giorgio gushes, “You were born to be a butterfly. You must tell me when the play is performed.” He glances Angelina, knowing she feels unsafe in the public eye, then continues, “Mama and I will be seated in the front, cheering your performance.”
Cantalisa bounces in her chair with excitement. She stuffs poultry into her cheeks and demonstrates her speed-chewing method to Papa, lobbying to return to practicing her part. She swallows and presents a tiny-toothed open cavity and pleads, “May I be excused, Papa?” Giorgio smiles and waves his hand for her to depart. She kisses him on the cheek and dashes out the door to the front yard.
It is now Angelina’s turn. This is her only chance in any day to speak directly to her husband without distraction. She has rehearsed her lines throughout the preparation of supper and begins with practiced casualness, “How do you like the chicken, bubi?”
“It tastes like chicken. Why do you ask?”
“It was our plumpest bird, a second rooster in the hen house. I prepared it your favorite way.”
“You have something more important to say to me. Spit it out.” He spears his meat and examines it from all angles before chomping it.
“Well, I am ashamed to say the birth of our son exhausted me. I am too old to be a new mother, bubi. I beg you allow me to hire a nurse maid, if only for a few weeks.”
The quick reddening of the top of his ears signal Giorgio is not himself tonight, but it is too late for her to retract her words, besides---.
“What...you have so much to do here? You clean a few rooms, cook a few meals, write to your mother. Now, because you feed and bathe a baby, you need a servant?”
“Not a servant. It’s just...I am so tired each day and still in pain. I fear falling asleep, leaving him unattended, unprotected---”
Giorgio holds up his left hand, “Enough.” He pushes his seat back. Cantalisa is heard laughing in the yard, her innocent joy untouched by the gale forming in the kitchen.
“I have many questions for you, but only one of importance.” Giorgio’s lips locate and assume their snarliest shape.
“Bubi, please. You must stop with this---”
The palm again, slapping the air this time, demanding her to cease. He dumps the water from his glass onto the floor and fills it with wine. He gulps it down with power, slamming and cracking the heavy crystal on the table, glaring at Angelina, speaking to her in a raspy whisper, “Why now? Ten years of love making several times a week and produce nothing. Why now?”
“We can’t keep going over this. You said you understood, that the baby was a gift, a gift from God.” Averado begins to stir, disturbed by the raised voices. Angelina fumbles to fit a pacifier into his mouth.
“That was before he was born,” Giorgio spats, his voice rising with each word, “Now that he is here, I look at him. I see nothing of me.”
“How can you say such a thing. He is but an infant, fresh out of the womb. His skull is still misshaped, his eyes are changing color as we speak.”
“No! I felt different when Cantalisa was born. I knew she was mine from her first breath. I do not feel it this time. I think you know why.”
Angelina’s eyes water as she stretches to look through the foyer out the screen door. In contrast to his toughness in public and the shadow of fear that dominates their household, he is rarely this harsh with her.
He points at the cradle, his voice now inflected with vibrato, “He must be proven to be my son. I will accept it is too soon to be certain, but as he grows, I will know. If he is not mine, you will suffer. Of this I swear.”
Angelina loses control and lunges forward in her chair, “God shame you, Giorgio! You accuse me? I have done nothing but care for you. I watch over your health, keep you from drinking yourself to death. I pray each morning and evening for God to save your soul. You have taken the wives and daughters of many men and used them for your filthy lust. You accuse me? Damn you, Giorgio. Damn you!”
He leaps to his feet, his palm now clenched, weaving in his stance as Angelina fumes. He looks down at her and barks, “Are you my wife?”
Angelina’s anger is trumped by unexpected fear. She glances at the cradle as Averado begins a feint whine, fully wakened by his father’s blaring. She sits back, lowers her head, looks down at the table and whimpers, “Of course. Of course I am your wife.”
“Then stand up!” he shouts.
An overwhelming angst keeps her from rising. Giorgio grabs her by the back of her hair and yanks her to her feet. She yelps. Her baby’s whines swell to cries. Holding her by the hair and nape of her neck, Giorgio declares with obsession, “Yes. Yes. You are my wife, my servant, and my whore. No one else’s.” His spittle sprays across her face.
He throws her torso onto the table, shifting his powerful hand to the center of her back. She is nearly in shock as she is held by his force, her body and face smashed against platters of bread and pesto, her baby now screaming out the very terror she herself feels inside.
She pushes upward, struggling for release, but he does not allow her to move as he pulls her dress up and over her waist. He fumbles with himself, grabs the crotch of her underpants, pulls them aside, and thrusts himself fully inside her, stabbing her still-healing flesh with his delusional rage. The table creaks in rhythm. She can’t breath. She pounds her fists on the table, a dish falls and shatters, then another. In seconds, he howls like a vicious beast and pulls away as suddenly as he had begun, stumbling backward and falling into his chair. He opens the third bottle, seemingly blind to the nightmare he just created, oblivious to its aftermath, muttering to himself.
Angelina remains deadly still, lying across the table, sucking in needed air, coming slowly to her senses as a bloody mess seeps out of her. She would choose to lay there and die. Let the world find her and hang her husband for her death. Only Averado’s continued screams force her to her feet. She rises with difficulty, wipes her face with each forearm, lifts Averado and staggers to the porch.
Her baby suckles her breast. She commands her tears stop flowing and gropes for a smile as she waves to Cantalisa down by the gate entertaining Trevella, the child’s mindless play surreal. Angelina is only beginning to collect herself, knowing she is bleeding and choosing to ignore it. She looks back through the screen and sees Giorgio passed out in his chair. She prays he will do no more harm tonight. His burst of outrage has been gratified. It is more important for her to think about tomorrow.
Her images are vivid. She will poison him at dinner, after Cantalisa has gone to romp. As he collapses in a coma across the table, she will move Averado’s cradle into the den and return. There, she will push his face into mounds of pasta and meat and thrust her carving knife into him. She will stab him the same number of times he stabbed her and she will howl with the same gratification in the end.
At dusk, the flies come out, swirling around the draw of her milk. She brings Cantalisa and Averado into the house, avoiding the kitchen and climbing the front staircase to the master bedroom.
“You’ll sleep with me tonight. I want no argument, do you understand? Change your brother, clean him with that sponge.” Cantalisa knows this voice and obeys without her usual protests.
Angelina braces the door with an heirloom chair propped under the door knob. Two of Giorgio’s shotguns are within reach in a rack beside the bed. She loads them, ignoring Cantalisa’s wondering watch.
Before joining her children in bed, she steps to her dresser and reaches into her jewelry box, her back turned. She caresses the speckled pebble she brought back from Venice last year. The small, smooth stone comforts her, connects her to that one night.
Sleep is sparse, interrupted by Averado’s demands mixed among haunting repetitions of the terror and humiliation she endured hours ago. The night is reluctant to release it’s hold, denying her the birth of a new day.
When morning comes it delivers the dawn of reality. Her planned revenge requires her to obtain poison and she is without an idea of where to begin. The vision of inserting a blade into his fatty flesh repulses her now. The thought of the consequences, the destruction of her precious children’s lives, dissolves the remnants of her fantasy. She feels caged, at the mercy of a man she cannot leave, yet cannot possibly love again.
Angelina descends the stairs, looking for signs of her husband. Travella is not at his post. He never leaves unless he is asked to join Giorgio. The kitchen table is bare, the broken dishes swept and gone. Dirty plates and dinnerware are stacked in the sink, covered with flies, needing to be scraped and clean, but they are there nonetheless.
In the early afternoon, Trevella comes to the door, his shotgun dangling like a pool cue waiting its turn, “Mrs. Perillo, please excuse me, Mr. Perillo asked me to bring her to you the minute she arrived, you see, and here she is, ready to do your bidding, of course.” Travella is tall, wide, his frame blocks the quiet woman standing directly behind him. “Oh, ah, here she is.” He is embarrassed as he shuffles aside, “Grace Marie, raise your head and smile.”
Grace is a featureless, middle-aged woman called upon by Giorgio that morning. Her arrival is an offering, an unspoken message Angelina reads as, “Ti amo, forgive me, I misbehaved, the wine, my troubles, this woman is hand-picked, the best in Avellino to help you with all that you do for me. Bubi.” She takes as an insult that Giorgio would think such repentance will erase what happened.
She speaks to the woman briefly, satisfied she is an experienced nurse, maid and cook. Grace is a blessing to Angelina’s life. Her presence does not usher forgiveness but it helps neutralize the households poisoned air for the next two months.
Angelina struggles to find a place to tuck away the horror of that night. She folds it like a memo and sets it in an open slot in her mind-desk, rereading it frequently, reminding her no matter how well he may treat her on any given day, he is a monster. Her focus is on motherhood, not differently from the past, but with more energy and sensitivity. As a wife, she services Giorgio’s needs without complaint, but never regains her love, her dreams. She has no choice but to continue her life in a marriage with a shattered foundation.
It is how it must be. ********************************************************
Avery’s donna matura speaks to him each night. The five-year old is a cocco di mamma, a mama’s boy. Avery has feint recollections of her putting him to bed with soft hands and hard words, “You will be strong. You must be superiore”“What do you mean, Mama?”
“You are Averado Perillo. You are already a man. You do not need anyone. You will show me.”
The young boy closes his eyes and smiles. He pictures himself grown, dressed in a white suit, panama hat, the yellow band matching his socks slipped into white patent leather shoes, pulling up to his massive villa on a hilltop in a long, silver limousine. Mama is on the porch, greying now, but still beautiful, her red beads out-shined by her pride, stepping feebly with a cane to greet him. The boy’s lids open wide and he vows, “I will show you, Mama.”
Giorgio’s coldness toward his son is demonstrated daily. His resistance to accept Averado as his own is by small acts, no touching, no eye contact, no excitement over his first steps, no interest in his crayon drawing of a hilltop villa. Angelina fears it is only a matter of time before Giorgio drinks enough to convince himself he is not the father. She longs for a solution.
Ironically it is war that brings her potential peace. Fascist Mussolini leads Italy into WWII in June of 1940. By the end of the year, Italy encroaches into Africa, then invades Egypt. The Axis Pact is signed by Italy, Germany and Japan. Italy invades Greece, submersing itself into full-scale war. Angelina’s plea to her husband is a fresh idea she hopes will bring more comfort to her and safety to her son.
Avery is at play when she speaks to Giorgio while preparing dinner, cautiously, as she slices pleated tomatoes and crushes them with a wooden masher, “We must send Averado to live with my sister. The United States will never enter the war, so he will be safe.” Avery’s Aunt Donatella lives in the North End of Boston, Little Italy. She prays Giorgio will lessen his obsession once Averado is out of his sight.
“You think you can hide him from me? That I will stop doubting you? Do not make me a fool. If I learn you have betrayed me, I will kill you. It will not matter where he is living.”
“It is not for that stupid reason,” Angelina bluffs, “You should want to protect your son. You know we face many troubles here. You did not hesitate to send Cantalisa to Zurich. Why not protect your son as well?”
“My son?” Giorgio pushes back on his chair.
Angelina takes the memo from her mind-desk and rereads it. Yes, this is the beast, “Yes, your son.” She clutches the knife, ready to fight him this time, stabbing low, hacking off his shaft, slicing it like pepperoni and mashing it into her sauce. She awaits his response. He propels all the air from his nostrils and answers, “Do what you want with him.” Angelina is relieved his scorn has been forsaken this night.
He stands as if to fetch a fresh glass from the cabinet, passing her then grabbing her wrist, squeezing with such force her fingers open wide, disobeying her conviction to endure anything and everything, to die if necessary, her fist still clinging to the handle as an epitaph to her will. The knife falls to the table and he releases her. She rubs the welt he left as if touching it will somehow ease the throbbing. The only sound in the room is the water boiling earnestly on the stove.
Avery comes in from the front yard, perfectly timed to miss the conflict but blanketed still by the residue fabric of hostility. Giorgio ignores him and curtly motions to Angelina to tend to the food. She pats Avery on his thick, black hair hoping to comfort him without needing to speak.
Dinner is served and eaten in silence to the very end, for the first time now. When Avery finishes, he looks to Mama for approval. She raises a brow seeking tacit approval, but Giorgio ignores her. She nods to her son and he runs out without a word. She clears the table and without rinsing, drops the plates and utensils into the sink and drifts to the porch. Giorgio sits alone, drinking himself to treacherous oblivion. It has become a nightly ritual.
Except on Saturdays, when Giorgio’s brother, Antonio visits. They drink playfully throughout the evening, debating the war.
Giorgio speaks in declarations, certain his views cannot be challenged, “Hitler is a great leader. He will rule the world and Italy will bask in his glory. People are concerned about trusting him, but his admiration of Italian warfare will keep him in check.”
Antonio enjoys arguing with Giorgio, regardless of which side he takes from week to week. He scoffs at his younger brother, “Italy is not feared by Hitler, nor is he impressed with our abilities. We will be his slaves in the end, like all the rest. He will turn on us when he chooses and we will be helpless to resist.”
“How can you say such a thing. No race can outfight the Italians. Two-thousand years of history proves this. Hitler admires our men, their will, and their ruthlessness.”
“Have you forgotten Caporetto? “
“That was a battle. We later defeated them at Piave River.”
“Yes, with the slight assistance of six French divisions and five British. You live in the past, Gio. Our biplanes are no match for the Luftwaffe. Our men in Africa are being led by Rommel, a German. Our flotilla is but an irritant to the British. Only a fool would say what you say.”
Giorgio changes the subject, an instinctive strategy when against the ropes, speaking low, “She wants to send the boy to the US to live.” His eyes dart up the stairs, confirming the master bedroom door is closed, without light sneaking out from beneath.
“What?” Antonio is thrown, yet also restrained, “With Dona? Enrico won’t stand for it, it is not worth discussing.”
“You heard me. She lives in fear for that bastard. Dona has already agreed. Enrico’s approval is not required. He is in America where women stitch men’s testicles to their lapels.”
“Gio, you are not sure he is not yours. You told me so yourself, many times.”
Giorgio pours his brother a shot of limincello, offering it to him along with an entreaty, “You will join her each year when she visits him. You will report back to me his growth, his changes. Find for me what I need to know. And watch her each evening. Do not let her out of your sight. Do I have your promise?” “Only if you book a single berth so I can keep her warm during the night.” “Fuck you. Maybe you’re the one who fertilized her.” “No such luck, brother. Not that I would mind.” “You are an ass.”
Antonio’s eyes glisten as he digests the commitment he is about to make, “Of course you have my promise.” The moment is too solemn for their brotherly comfort. Antonio breaks the mood, “I only want peace for you, not a ‘piece’ for myself.”
They burst into laughter as they toast and savor the rare bottle of spirits.
Aunt Donatella married and relocated to the US years earlier. Dona’s husband, Enrico owns a sausage shop on Hanover Street. The static and buzz of the call received from overseas is distracting, irritating as always. It is the pleading, the begging that startles her, never hearing anything remotely like it before, by phone or in person from Angie. Angelina was the strong one, born first to a father expecting, for no reason other than entitlement, a boy. She spent her youth striving to be all she thought a father wanted in a son. Angie always led, gave, decided, won. Angie didn’t ask anyone, least of all her younger sister for anything. Ever.
“Live here? With us? Have they invaded the coast?” Shouting into the transmitter is necessary, “No? Then why...?” Dona pushes away a curious Enrico, not wanting him to hear her sister’s weakness, “Angie, Angie, are you all right?” She shoves Enrico further away, “Yes. Yes, of course. Angie, are you crying? He’s what? The twelfth? Okay, it’s okay, he’ll be fine. No, he’ll be fine. I love you sis.” The connection dies before she can hear her sisters ending words, if any.
Dona pays little attention to the young boy after he arrives in Boston. He is too quiet for her liking. She regrets her promise to Angelina, but understands the option. Her husband never speaks to Avery, the child is but a spirit in his house, the price of bits of warmth from his frigid wife.
Avery eats well thanks to Dona’s endlessly creative recipes featuring sausage, but they never dine. Avery is called from his room, handed his measured portion and returns to complete his lessons and daydreams each evening. Comic books, DC, are his favorite, especially the infrequent issues when Superman and Batman team up, where Batman, without any powers never fails to provide vital assistance to Superman.
When he first departed Italy, the trip was an adventure. Now, years later, Avery feels abandoned. He has no emotional ties to Italy or America. He receives frequent letters from Mama, letters that keep him alive as he reads each one a dozen times,
“I miss you, my strong man. I promise to write you and I will receive your letters with joy. I will see you each year and the time we spend together will be wrapped with more love than could be enjoyed if you were with me every day. Please believe your Mama, who loves you, that you are better there because of the war. It will not last forever and we will be together again.”
After the Allies bomb and take Palermo, then the mainland ports of Salerno and Taranto in 1943, Avery awaits word of his promised return home. Yet the letters from Mama explain new problems: the disruption of the occupation, the new government, the poverty, the reconstruction. Endless rationale.
He is a loner, even within groups of schoolmates. By age fifteen, his independence is drilled deep. His black pupils intimidate. His otherwise handsome looks are rigid, his personality entombed, his clothes uninspired. He wants no friends and succeeds with honors.
After school, he hangs about the docks, taking in the crank of the iron cranes, the touch of engine oil, the smell of labor mixed with salty air, reading labels revealing the origins affixed to splintered wooden crates, and listening to seamen from around the globe speak in different tongues. He has a talent for distinguishing and learning the basics of various languages and dialects.
His favorite to observe is a longshoremen, an Egyptian well known as Abayomi. When he first sees Abayomi, he is curious about the look of surprise on the Arab’s face, creased forehead, popped open eyes, arched brows. As he listens to his words and the changes of subject from amusing antidotes to a tales of woe and regret, it becomes clear the look of surprise is perpetual, the features genetic.
Abayomi eventually takes notice of Avery staring at him from a dozen feet away as he is speaking to a shipmate. He excuses himself and confronts the teen, “You are listening to me tell my tales with your ears, but your eyes are hearing me as well, your lips are mouthing my words. I know what you are doing.”
Avery is needlessly defensive. Abayomi explains with a yellow grin, “I’ve met others who practice speech this way. It’s a good way. Let me make it easier and tell you my lying tales first hand.” He puts his arm around Avery’s shoulder and begins walking, pulling Avery with him, saying warmly, “I speak six languages. I can help you learn them all. I’ve traveled the globe so many times in my thirty-five years I am dizzy. Come and share my beer.”
They meet each day at 4:00 in Abayomi’s boarding house. He teaches Avery the subtle differences in dialects, that most can be phrased with different accents that can make you sound a fool if not learned properly.
“Don’t copy the speech of women. A school fellow of mine spent years learning French from a woman teacher,” Abayomi laughs while telling young Avery, “He gets work as a tour guide in Cairo, bussing French tourists around the city. The tourists laugh him off the bus, all thinking he’s queer.”
“Why is he so odd?“ “Ho! That’s right, you don’t know what queer is, do you?” Abayomi’s words of surprise finally match his features. He rubs his own knees with opposite hands, seeming to cleanse himself and continues, “Do you how a man and woman make love...make babies? Do you know anything about that?”
Avery has heard stories, listened to adults laugh and imply and whisper, and he has constructed images in his head to match his conclusions, strange as they seem. He bluffs, “I know about it.”
“What do you know about it?” Avery has trouble answering, it is not much more than a guess, “The man sticks his dickthing in the woman’s butt and...pees?...I mean pees.”
Abayomi finds this topic always entertaining. He’s heard this theory from young men before, “Ah, that’s close. Do you know why they do this? Do you think it is something they enjoy?”
“I don’t know, I guess they do, I’ve been told so.” Avery has been tracking the conversation in his head. The trip from the subject of linguistics to this discussion is too rapid, unsettling. Rehearsed?
“It’s the feeling they get that pleases them. Do you know what I’m saying?” He looks at Avery, determining what his next comment will be only after assessing the boy’s reaction, his skin tone, finger movement, any change however slight. He decides to add these words, “It’s impossible to explain to you a ‘feeling’. Let me show you. Stand up and give me a hug.”
Avery is still muddled, he rises reluctantly and they embrace. The touch and warmth of another person, even Abayomi is welcomed, but disturbing. His body shivers for no reason, questioning himself, “Is this the feeling he is talking about?” Avery is standing outside himself, watching, judging, wondering. The seaman kisses him on the cheek, moving his mouth toward his lips. Avery pushes away.
“I understand. I understand. I must leave.” Avery shouts, stepping backward, bumping the wall, turning and rushing to the door. Abayomi grabs him by his shoulders and tries to twist him, turn him, his lips pursed.
Avery is not thinking, but if he was it would register that other than Mama, he’s never been touched before, by anyone. He dislikes it. His fingers stiffen, his right hand becomes a discus. He throws it into Abayomi’s mouth, between his teeth, piercing his palate, his hand yanks, jerks downward upon retreat, severing the tip of the surprised Egyptian’s tongue.
Avery runs out of the room while Abayomi chokes, coughs, streams red saliva from his mouth.
Avery curls in his bed rereading his doubts, “Why would he do that? I am not a woman. Why didn’t I see what a freak he was? Why didn’t I see his intentions?” He dreams of caterpillars inching up his neck, of rounding a bend on his bicycle, unable to brake, of flapping his arms and flying just above the horizon. He stops wandering the docks until he knows Abayomi has embarked. The spring season drips by.
It is summer. Mama and Uncle Antonio travel by ship and arrive for their week long stay. Their annual visits represent the bulk of Avery’s childhood memories. They are his only chance for physical closeness to Mama.
“Look at my boy, Antonio. He’s as tall as Gio.”
“Yes, that he is. Perhaps even taller.” Antonio takes out a cloth tailor’s tape, “Let me measure you, boy. Almost six feet!”
He has his mother’s olive skin, her cheek bones and her full lips. Fortunately, he lacks his father’s hawk nose and broad forehead, developments that are not overlooked by Antonio.
As always, his uncle photographs him then examines his fingernails, toenails, body hair growth, skin blemishes and teeth. Avery has no thought of his odd interests until this visit. He questions his mother the next day on the rear porch, eating baked sausage bits on toothpicks dipped in pepper-sated olive oil. Avery asks, “Why does Uncle Antonio measure me and examine me?”
“It is nothing. He wants to tell Papa about your growth. It is his way.”
“Mama, he cut my palm yesterday,” Avery shows her the healing mark, “and smeared my blood onto the piece of glass. I don’t understand.”
Angelina is expressionless. This explains Antonio leaving the house this morning without explaining his purpose.
“Why can I not return home, Mama?” Avery is fretful, “Why does Papa not want to see me? There is no more turmoil. If so, then why won’t Papa come here instead of sending Uncle Antonio?”
Mama holds his hand and pats it lovingly, “Papa is working very hard to keep the vineyards. The Christian Democrats want to disperse our property back to la poverta. He fears for your safety. It is how it must be.”
Avery knows when it is time to stop speaking. He labors to hold his feelings inside. They spend the rest of the day walking together to the harbor, past the shops of Little Italy. They enter Camerata’s Pet Sales and Grooming, Mama cooing at the birds, tickling the kittens with her finger through the cages, shushing the yapping mutts. Avery is toying with a lone gerbil in its cage and asks, “Mama, can I have her? I want to name her Angie and keep her with me, for company.”
“Of course, I always get you a gift when I come. How do you know it’s a female.”
Avery is stumped, he just assumed...
“Miss, is this hamster a female or male?”
“It’s not a hamster, it’s a gerbil, you can tell by the tail, among other things, less feces, more peaceful. Hamsters bite.”
“Well, do you have any females that---”
“No, Mama,” Avery interrupts, “I must have this one. I’ll give him another name, it won’t matter.” They leave with it in a shoebox lined with a folded “I Like Ike” flyer---Camerata is a Democrat---and air holes the size of quarters.
Enrico and Dona relinquish their thrones for an evening allowing Avery and Mama to watch TV together. Mama is excited, feeling privileged to view a 10-inch screen without standing in a crowded department store. They watch “The Hickenloopers” with Sid Caesar. Mama says, “He is funnier than Jack Benny. And I love Imogene Coca. She should have her own show.” Mama holds Avery’s hand between the chairs throughout the special evening. They watch until the Star Spangled Banner plays and the TV station displays it’s test pattern.
Avery takes advantage of the quiet moment to ask, “Mama, you said I must be strong, superiore. Do you remember?”
“Of course I do, my beam of light. You have a strength I have not seen in the Perillo family, nor my own. I’m very proud of you for your school work, your language and math skills. I can tell by the expression on the shopkeepers faces, no one thinks you were not born here.”
“When I return, I will make Papa proud too. I will prove myself worthy as a son.”
Angelina turns to him and lies, “Papa is a good man, but he doesn’t explain his feelings...to anyone. Trust me, he is proud of you, but don’t be concerned if he doesn’t...show it, or say it.”
Avery is not convinced, but accepts her words. Before bed, he brings out his gerbil and tells her, “I have a name for him. Caesar, like the funny guy on TV. Is that a good name, Mama?”
She smiles, understanding, “That’s a wonderful name, my conqueror.”
Their hug as she is leaving for the port is endless, neither willing to release the other, both blind from the pooling tears. Avery tries to be strong, but he screams out to her as she boards the taxi, “Non mi lasciare mamma. Non andare. Per favore! Please don’t leave me!”
A few days later, Aunt Dona makes a rare appearance at his door, “Here, I have made you a better cage for your rat. Keep fresh newspaper shreds on the bottom and dispose of them each morning and evening. And wash yourself more. Your uncle is not happy about this.”
“And lower your voice in here. Enrico thinks you are speaking in the devil’s tongue.”
Avery mocks, “I’m practicing Mandarin, Aunt Dona. Caesar understands Chinese.”
She closes the door on him without comment.
He begins his ritual of greeting the postman each afternoon, starting a few weeks after Mama’s departure. No letter arrives for two months. Avery pours through his stack of prior letters, noting each postmark. One hundred and fifteen in total, none more than six weeks apart. He pleads with Aunt Dona,
“You must call Mama. She has not written. She must be sick. Please. Please!”
“Sit down,” Aunt Dona frowns, hesitates, then speaks with cold resolve, “You do not know anything. I will tell you and you must understand and accept it. There is nothing you can do.”
Avery looks to the door, picturing Mama bursting in laughing, grabbing him, Papa at her side, reaching and...he shifts from fantasy to frantic, realizing something is wrong, demanding, “What do you mean? Tell me what? Tell me! Now!”
“Your Mama is gone. She drowned on the return from her visit. It was an accident. I have been afraid to tell you. I am sorry.”
The words rush into him and scar his brain before he comprehends their meaning. He loses all bodily control. The sensation starts in his jaw. It pulls open robotically, slowly without his command, locking into position as wide as the bone hinges will allow. He falls on the floor, his arms and legs quivering uselessly, his body vibrating along the floor. He does not lose consciousness and is aware of everything.
Dona panics a moment, then pulls together. She reaches into Avery’s mouth to keep him from swallowing his tongue. He can hear her voice as if a hundred feet away. He is overwhelmed with pain, his jaw remains locked open. He pleads to her with his eyes, he cannot speak, the shock soaring and careening inside, drowning the remnants of his emotions as surely as the ocean drowned his mother.
He comes out of it after twenty minutes of terror. He sits up, spewing blood across his aunt’s face. She recoils, but stays with him, nursing him back.
“When? How? What happened?”
“You had a seizure. It’s a natural defense, usually people black out, but not you, this time. I should have been more careful, perhaps had Father Fletcher here to help explain.”
“I don’t mean what happened to me. What happened to...Mama?” He spits out the last words, sobbing without control.
“Please, Avery. I will explain everything in the morning. You must get some rest. I will sit here and watch you, in case of a relapse.” She puts his resisting but exhausted body to bed, placing Caesar at his side. He sleeps until 2:00 the next day.
“When in the voyage did she drown?”
“I...I’m not certain. I think soon after it sailed.”
“Haven’t you seen a report? Where was Uncle Antonio? Was he with her?” Avery is perplexed, then angry over his aunt’s inexplicable ignorance of any detail.
“I...I’m not sure. I don’t think so. I mean, maybe he was, I think. Quit discussing this. I don’t want you to have another seizure.”
“Look, I’m fine. Do you understand?” His raised voice is out of character, Dona is fearful of him for the first time. He berates her, “I need to understand more, I need to put it away in my...my mind.” He twice pounds his fist against his forehead, then holds it there, eyes closed, head nodding, painfully, slowly seeing, understanding. He looks up, “Tell me this...did they try to save her or pull her body from the water?”
“Avery, you must stop it. I refuse to discuss it any further. Go do your studies.”
He jumps up and grabs her face, clapping his palms onto to her cheeks, his face drawing closer, a prelude to a kiss if everything about the moment, the people was changed. Instead, it’s a melding of anger, heartbreak, confrontation.
He stops himself from shaking the truth from her skull, knowing she is hiding something, or has the same suspicions and doesn’t want to face them, admit them to him. Talking with her is pointless. He stomps to his room, slamming the door, years of dust spores flying out from every crack in the frame.
He rereads all of Mama’s letters with new eyes. He sees the adjectives and pronouns he slighted over in the past, the secret fear sprinkled in her words and tempo and melody and tone. He tells himself, softly, “Close your eyes. Focus and she will appear. There she is, no, gone, there, no, there. Look at her. How did you miss that look each time Uncle Antonio examined you? There, Papa’s face, distorted by flames, never revealing, never looking at you, ever.” Avery finally absorbs and accepts what has happened. ************************************************
He is awake all night. At 5:00 he prepares to leave. He turns to the foyer cabinet he knows holds his uncle’s cash and Aunt Dona’s diamond bracelet. He puts the eighty-two dollars and the bracelet in his jacket pocket, the one opposite Caesar. He knows he can hock the piece for desperately necessary funds.
Six blocks away he turns back. He risks waking them, removing his shoes and tip-toeing back in, returning the bracelet to the musty drawer. Aunt Dona has disappointed him, but he forgives her weakness, understands her pathetic helplessness.
Dressed in corduroy pants, work shoes and a green pea jacket he walks to Long Wharf seeking the chief officer of the cargo ship Azienda Comunale per la Navigazione Interna e Lagunare. Uncle Antonio talked of their last trip over, about the people on the ship. The Azienda’s chief is a native of Avellino, Joseph Mondani.
Avery sees the ship at harbor. He approaches a string-bearded man sitting on a crumbling rusted iron reinforced post clinging to a nearly empty pint of rot gut, “I am looking for Joseph Mondani, do you know him?”
“Gotta quarter? Gotta a quarter? Gimme a quarter.” Avery complies.
“He’s not on board. Gimme a dollar. Give me dollar. I’ll show ya where he is.”
The shoeless drunk weaves across the wharf, down a short street with Avery trailing, doubting his pathfinder. The old sot points out Mondani sitting alone in The Warehouse, a bar two-blocks off the harbor.
Avery approaches the dark, leathered sailor with impenetrable determination, “Lei, Mondani, I am Averado. Can I speak?”
The chief looks him over and shakes his head, saying dismissively, “You are too young to be here. What are you doing? It’s six in the fuckin’ morning. Where are your parents?”
“I must get back to Avellino. You must let me work for you. I need no lira.”
“What? Get outta here, ya little shit. Go. Now. Scat.” “My Mama was Angelina Perillo, the woman lost on your ship two months ago.”
Mondani’s mask cracks for a split second. ‘Startled’ would never apply to Mondani, or be detected if it happened, which it couldn’t, but it did. There are no signs but for an his sudden interest in the shape of his common mug. He knows more than he wants to know about the drowning, “Ah, I see. I am sorry, son. May God bless your mama’s soul. Sit down. Where’s your papa, why doesn’t he send for you?”
Avery sits, sucks in deprived air and leans forward, fighting the ashes of desperation settling in his voice, “My papa does not accept me as his son. He is wrong. I must return to convince him I am his flesh and blood.”
Mondani admires the boys balls, but what use will they be, “How will you do that? I know of your papa, Giorgio Perillo, a...thoughtful man. If he has doubt, he has reason, even if irrational, How can you overcome his reason?”
“I have not seen him for ten years. He will see I am his son. I know this to be true. I simply know.” Avery leans back in his chair, exhausted by the release of something inside he didn’t know was there, perhaps wasn’t there.
Mondani empties his twenty-ounces, holding his head back, determined to capture the dissolving foam. He slides his tongue across the knotted bush growing unkempt on his upper lip, “Ah, but what if he doesn’t ‘see’? It will destroy your spirit. Worse, you will become obsessed to find your real papa. Why? You are young. You are in America. You should accept what God has given and live your life without such questions, without such answers.” He shouts to the bar, “Hey, barista, bring me another. And one for the lad.”
“Besides, I have no need for another seaman, a seaman without experience, a boy. My captain will never approve.”
“You are right,” Avery is prepared, “You must explain me in some other way. Perhaps I am your nephew.”
“Ah, why would I do that?”
“I will be your busone. I am an innocent lamb. I will do anything you ask.”
This takes Mondani by surprise, a second time within minutes, a shock to his shell. He chastises himself for his interest, then looks at the slim man-boy and says, “Do you know what that means? Do you understand what I will expect?”
“Do you know I may wager you and you could be at the mercy of one or more of---let me better describe for you---one or more of the less gentle of men on the ship?”
“I understand. It is what I must do.”
Mondani closes his lids, reliving the frustration he experiences on every voyage. He half opens his eyes and warns, “Do not disappoint me.”
Avery uses his converted currency to buy a used bicycle in Salerno. His satchel is all that he has in the world. It fits snugly in a basket behind the seat. It takes him three hours to reach the Avellino area. He stops to purchase six eight-liter metal containers from a petrol station two miles from his father’s villa. He fills two of them and hauls them by foot up and down the hilly terrain in the dark.
He stops every twenty minutes to rest, exhausted from his journey, physically and emotionally. Caesar pokes his head out from under the flap of Avery’s jacket pocket, “Ah, my little ball of fur. You are not comfortable, are you?” He reaches in and scoops a handful of feces, dumping them on the road, “Now your house is clean. Be patient, you’ll get your treat soon.”
When he arrives, he weaves through the rear path he remembers as a boy. He treads slowly and quietly to the corner edge of the villa, sets down the containers and cautiously peers through the kitchen window. He can hear Papa and Uncle Antonio talking, complaining of the failing policies of President Einaudi.
Giorgio is sitting in a torn sleeveless T-shirt, Antonio dressed in a bright white shirt, a thin red tie attached to his shirt with a topaz tie clip. A platter of capicola meat and several provolone balls sit half-chewed on the table as they pass the bottomless cornetta between them.
Avery makes two more trips, each time hauling two filled containers. He peeks into the window after his final trip and sees Papa still sitting there, drinking and muttering to himself. Uncle Antonio is laying on the wooden floor, passed out, drooling.
Avery leans against the villa wall, glancing too often into the kitchen, waiting for over an hour until Papa’s head drops to the table, a half-filled wine glass in his motionless hand. Avery’s heart hammers loudly as he looks for movement from either of them. Fifteen more minutes pass before he is satisfied this is his opportunity.
He selects one of Papa’s archaic rundlets stacked behind the villa, rolls it silently onto the porch, and sets it to the side of the kitchen window. The emptiness of the night is alive with locusts, informing him his father is letting the vineyard deteriorate. He takes off his jacket, sweating in the cool night air.
He slowly fills the sixty-eight liter rundlet with the petrol and adheres in place a sheet of thin plastic on top of the fuel. He takes three two-liter containers of 70% hydrogen-peroxide out of his jacket and pours their contents on top. Gently, yet firmly he places the lid on the barrel, sufficient to trap the peroxide fumes already oxidizing the plastic. He estimates it will take four minutes to ignite. He reaches for his jacket. Caesar squirms out of his pocket and scurries out across the porch, taking unexplained refuge among the empty petrol cans.
Avery fails to restrain his gasp, “Caesar!” His eyes dart to the window, Papa is stirring. He tries to pry the lid off, but it’s too tightly in place. He drops to his hands and knees and crawls toward his pet. Caesar is unable to decide whether to stay, run or return to his warm pocket home.
Avery glances repeatedly over his shoulder, silently counting the seconds, anticipating when the thunder will roar. He reaches out and takes Caesar in his hand, slightly bumping one of the metal containers. The dominos fall noisily.
He rolls off the porch, falling onto and laying still in the dirt, staring at the kitchen window. Papa is at the window, searching the yard for an explanation of the sound that woke him. He reaches for a shotgun and bends to shake his brother. Avery continues his roll to the side of the brush, fifteen, twenty times with Caesar cupped in his hands. He rises enough to crawl through into the thicket as the door is yanked open, Papa is yelling out, daring his supposed invaders,
“ Uscire codardi. Lei non hanno nulla da temere da Giorgio Avellino. Come out cowards, you have nothing to fear.”
Avery doesn’t stand until he reaches the outer edge of his father’s property, torn face and shoulders. Papa and Uncle Antonio are sifting through the metal containers, curiously. They find the jacket. Avery stands and strokes Caesar while gazing upon his birthplace in anxiety, beginning to doubt his efforts.
The explosion is magnificent in size and power. The orange and yellow ball expands, enveloping the entire back of the villa. Roof tiles and debris shoot into the air like sky rockets glowing in their rise, then falling like enflamed hailstones within yards of where he stands unflinching, watching and smiling for the first and last time he can remember.
“Potete entrambi ustione nell'inferno, Papa ed Antonio. May you both burn in Hell.”
The boy walks the winding path to his bicycle, never looking back.
Avery returns to Boston by the same ship with Mondani. They agreed for him to do so on the trip over. It was a difficult negotiation.
They never speak again after he disembarks in Boston. He finds an Italian news story in the library reporting on the death of Giorgio and Antonio Perillo. The attack is considered an act of retribution, likely committed by unidentified locals. Avery is saddened to read the last caption, about the guard, Mario Trevella who committed suicide the following day.
He sleeps in a halfway house near his aunt’s home, but avoids seeing her. Surely she has concluded the killings were at his hands. He doesn’t care what she thinks. His life begins today, the past best left a fading nightmare.
He finds work delivering food from street vendors near the La Costa Nostra clubhouse, knowing he will be contacted by them in time. It doesn’t take long before he is recruited.
Separated by the Central Artery (I-93), the gangs of Little Italy are allowed to prosper and eventually challenge the Irish dominating the rest of Boston. When the Irish mob starts fighting among themselves, the Sicilian’s take control of the areas drug trade. Business is brisk.
He spends two years running drugs and messages from the clubhouse to various clients and confederates. His nondescript appearance and low-key demeanor is useful during these turbulent times. Even so, he is arrested three times by Irish cops and beaten twice. Small-time independents offer him bribes and women which he refuses, always reporting everything he sees and knows back to the clubhouse boss, ‘Big Louie’ Recchia.
It is an early afternoon when Recchia tells him to sit down, “I gave you that package this morning knowing it contained more cash than I told you to deliver. If you delivered it intact, I would consider you a fool. If you kept the excess, I would know you are a thief. You returned it. You are neither a fool nor a thief. I can rely on you.”
“I will teach you important things. You will listen and comply with my instructions. Within a year, you will be sent to New York to work for Frank Costello. You will be my eyes and ears, reporting back to me anything regarding my city, keeping me informed.” Avery is pleased. He is receiving an opportunity he understands is important. He envisions himself replacing Recchia someday, running a city as large as Boston.
A year later, Avery is accepted by Costello and moves to New York City. He is under development for a rapid rise in the mob. In January 1956, he receives his first serious assignment, a hit on a notable personality who is obstructing the mob’s wishes.
In March, Recchia visits from Boston and sits with twenty-one year old Avery at dinner in a private room at Puglia’s on Hester Street. By the time the second round of wine is poured, the restaurant is nearly empty, the staff discouraging approaching patrons.
Recchia knots the checkered napkin to his necktie, “So, you are growing quickly. They gave you a big job. Tell me about it.” Recchia pushes a meatball into his mouth and appears to be sucking it of flavor before beginning to chew.“Hey, it was an odd job. I’m sure you know what happened.”
Recchia swallows early, wipes his chin and says, “No I don’t. I only heard it’s a good story. I thought I’d wait and hear it from the horse’s mouth, ya know? Tell me what happened.”
As he looks down at the table, Avery’s grin is sheepish, “Of course. I guess it is kinda interesting.” He perks up, rarely having an opportunity to talk openly about anything. He relishes the chance to tell his mentore.
"It was a simple hit, that's why they gave it to me as a first, I guess. It was that old man, ya know, Tommy Dorsey, one of the Dorsey brothers, the bald guys with the TV show, national, ya know.”
Recchia holds up his palm, commanding a pause, “I know who they are. These guys led a big band in the old days, before your time. They’re doing a replacement show for Jackie Gleason, right? Gleason is Ol’ Ralphy boy, ‘The Honeymooners’, right?”
Avery nods and begins to descend into his more comfortable silence.
Recchia flips his left hand, gesturing “Hey. Why’d ya stop telling me? What the fuck happened?”
Avery regains confidence, “Well, ‘The Dorsey Brothers Show’ is a song and dance gig. The kind of variety show people are getting tired of, right?"
“Yeah, I know. Sullivan, Allen, Berle. Too much.”
"So, the stalk is a snap. I just sit in the back of the audience on Sunday, checking out the place and Dorsey before, during and after each show. I get lucky. The target, Tommy, the older of the two, had a dent, a routine that makes the MO obvious.”
“Yeah? What was it?”
“The guy sneaks out the back stage door every Sunday, right after the show, between 9:00 and 9:05, like a clock, ya know? He’s always the first, way ahead of anyone else. He walks down an empty alley about nine hundred feet, turns right and gets into his Caddie, always parked in the same illegal spot. The cops know who he is and ignore it.”
Recchia interrupts, “Alley’s always empty, no bums, no whores?”
“Hey, this is a TV studio. All the bums and whores are on the inside.”
Recchia bursts out laughing, sauce splatters across the table. Avery wipes a speck off his yellow tie and grins slightly, impatiently. He continues, “Anyway, two gems: never anyone in the alley, and no one else ever leaves after him 'till 9:20 or later. I track it another two Sundays. I’m over cautious, but it’s important for me to get the first one right."
"I hear ya," Recchia appears to be enjoying this. Avery is aroused, feels like he’s sharing war stories with Capone or somebody.
"I run through it with my driver a couple of times, physically, in the alley, ya know? He walks by, I grab him by the back of his collar, yank him down, poke him at a 45-degree angle, pull six inches to the right, you know what I’m saying, and I walk away, right?”
"Right. But hey, the first one's hard. Hard for everybody."
Avery is eager to continue, “So, I'm sitting in the audience at NBC studios. Never a problem getting in. They’re hustling tourists in each week, just to fill up the place. I figure, tonight's the night. The show is fine, about the same as every week. Dancers, jugglers, a lame comic, that sorta thing. Might as well kick back and enjoy it, right? Don't have to be to the 'office' until 9:00, right?"
Recchia laughs too loudly again. Avery is careful not to finish his story until his guida is ready to listen. Recchia motions with his fork, “Go on.”
"Well, all is well. The show is dragging on. It's about 8:40 and the old geezer comes on stage and introduces this deejay, who then introduces this singer. It’s some new guy, stirring things up down south. I'm thinking, shit, some hillbilly's waiting to go on national TV, probably crapping his pants right then." Avery bends forward for emphasis, "Anyway, it’s that friggin’ Elvis guy. Never heard of him. Nobody sitting around me seems to know him either, or care. Then he starts to sing.”
Avery goes on reliving the moment, "Other than a couple of pony-tails up front, the audience is slow to react, but when he starts jumping around on stage like a fuckin’ rabbit, all the young broads in the place go nuts.” He continues, “Ya know, everybody’s talking about the guy now. but that night, it was a shocker. Pretty soon, half the audience is screaming, the other half shaking their heads in disgust.”
Recchia belches and asks, “So what.”
Avery shakes his head, “I can’t explain it. It was just crazy, like a war breaking out between the old and the young. I hear it’s getting worse since that night.”
“Right. So get back to the hit.”
“Well, finally this Elvis Pelvis guy leaves the stage. Time for me to get to work. It's five to nine. I walk out, go to the back alley and wait to do the score. It’s the same as planned: quiet, empty, perfect, right?"
"Right. So what the fuck happens?" Recchia seems irritated.
"A fuckin’ parade happens, that’s what happens. No elephants and crap, but there must have been a hundred people, most of ‘em teenage girls, they start running up the alley. They stop at the stage door. There's even a couple of guys with cameras. The press, right?"
"Right.” Recchia’s expression is oddly intense.
“So as the stage door opens, the broads start screaming, shouting Elvis the Pelvis and shit. Of course, as I expected, it’s old man Dorsey who walks out. They start booing the poor bastard."
"Hey, that’s ain’t right. Fuckin’ punks.”
"Yeah, so Dorsey just shakes his head, jumps off the side of the stoop, and starts walking down the alley as usual. Walks right by me, just like the plan, but I had to let him pass, of course.” Avery reflects on the moment, still in disbelief.
"Anyway, the beauty of it is it all worked out for the best, ya know.” Avery continues, “My hit had to do with the show. The boys wanted Dorsey off, they had that quiz show scam ready. Dorsey wouldn't agree with ‘em, had a contract and shit, right?"
"Everybody’s going nuts over this hick. Dorsey's ratings go through the roof. Elvis is on the show every week for six weeks. The best part is the boys are making more off Dorsey now than they were going to make off the quiz show. They tell me to drop the hit.” Avery sighs, “Something, really something. Right?"
Recchia nods slowly, eerily quiet as he reaches across the table and takes Avery’s left hand and squeezes it, at first as if to console. He leans forward, moving his face half across the table and speaks softly, “Okay, you fuckin’ pezzo di merda, you listen to me now. I didn’t come down here to eat dinner with a fuckin’ spacchio suckin’ fuck up for my health.”
Avery is stunned. Recchia squeezes his hand tighter, painfully, and goes on, “You think ‘cause you fuckin’ lucked out, that the hit wasn’t needed after all, you think that means you didn’t fuck up?” Recchia tightens his grip until Avery’s hand bones are about to crack, “Do you?”
Avery tries to defend himself, “But...how was I supposed to know that---’
Recchia lets loose and sits back, disgusted, “‘Cuz it was in the fuckin’ papers, you fuckin’ puttana. The fuckin’ New York Times.” He pulls a news clip from his jacket and tosses it on Avery’s plate. Avery scans the article, written two days before the show, buried on a high numbered page, about Elvis and how his followers crowd around his exit after his shows. The writer speculates on the reaction Elvis will receive in New York.
Avery hides the pain in his hand and his head, focusing on the moment as if he is watching it on the silver screen, thinking about Recchia, “Christ. I believed in this guy. I thought of him like an uncle, a papa. He doesn’t give a shit about me.”
Avery concentrates his stare into Recchia’s eyes with false humility and speaks, “I understand. I understand. You’re right. I’m a piece of shit.” Avery folds the clipping and puts it into his jacket pocket. Caesar II chews on it in nervously.
Recchia pulls close to Avery’s face again and says, “Listen, the boys like you. They think you’re smart, book smart, street smart. They have plans for you. This was a test and you fucked it. You know the deal. Three fuck-ups and your dead, no matter who you are. This is number one for you. You gotta a lot a years and a future ahead. You can’t afford to fuck up again, you understand?”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. I appreciate the lesson. I get it.”
Recchia frowns, grabs Avery’s aching palm, squeezes cruelly and says, “No. You don’t get it. Not yet. Ya see, I recommended you. So this is my fuck up too. It’s my second. You fuck up again and it will be my third.”
“So, let me explain it to you. If I pay the price, you need to know I’ve made arrangements. Someone will be feeding you your balls, one at a time, while they’re still chewy. Now do ya get it, you testa di merda?”
Avery doesn’t respond, the threat demands no response. Avery will never forget this conversation, this lesson, this let down.
Recchia relaxes. The customers and staff have all left, “Grab that bottle.” Avery reaches over to the next table and takes two fresh glasses as well. He pours from the grapa the waiter left for them. The matter is dropped. Recchia starts telling stories about his glory days, his war stories. His blubbering laughter fills the room of the empty restaurant as Avery listens patiently, trying his best to act amused.
The next night, Avery sits in a coffee house pouring through three newspapers, looking for a story, any story that mentions him or Recchia or anyone sounding similar. The bell rings when the door opens, alerting the one-man waiter/cook/cashier to the arrival of a too infrequent customer. Two men enter. He recognizes the taller of them, knowing who he represents. Their arrival is expected. He never planned to elude them.“Let’s go.” The tall man reaches to take hold of Avery’s arm.
“Don’t touch me.” The man hesitates as Avery repeats his warning, “Just don’t touch me.”
Something in Avery’s voice, the fire in his eyes, the language of his body cause the men to ease off, back away as if they had encountered a foaming hound. Avery stands, leaves a dollar on the counter and nods toward the door. He leads the men out to his presumed execution with honor.
Minutes later Avery is sitting in the back of Frank Costello’s limo, riding slowly down Mulberry. Costello is dressed to perfection, the thin lines of his twill weave suit match the shade of his ebony hat. Dean Martin croons “Memories are Made of This” softly from speakers along the floor boards. Caesar stirs in Avery’s sharkskin suit pocket. Costello gets past the small talk and speaks, “I’m a happy man. You made me smile today.”
Avery is surprised, relieved. He didn’t expect to be alive this long. Costello continues, “You did what we expected you to do. Very clean. Tell me, how did you get that roll stuck in his throat without breaking his teeth first?”
“I drugged him. He was out cold. It was easy.”
“Ha! Easy. I like that. It was easy. Ha!” He calls to his chauffeur, “Hey, Mike, the kid here knocks off Big Louie and says ‘It was easy.’ Ha!” Costello abruptly stops laughing and places his hand on Avery’s knee.
“Two important birds for me at the same time. I get that fat fuck Recchia out of the way, clean. And my young piccolo proves himself to me. I am happy.”
Avery is relieved, but distressed by Costello’s touch. Costello continues, “You work for me now. You fucked up, but everyone needs to fuck up once, just to know how it feels. I give most three. You, I’m only giving two. Don’t fuck up again.”
“I won’t,” Avery answers, speaking more to himself than to Costello.
“Stay clean. Keep doing your job. I don’t want to hear about you. I don’t want to read about you. You got potential, kid. Don’t fuck it up.” Avery doesn’t respond.
The silence is welcomed by Avery, but it is brief. Costello continues, “You stay close and you stay smart and you will be happy someday. You understand me?
Avery nods, “I understand you, sir. I understand.” as he carefully lifts Costello’s hand off his leg.
Avery never hears from him again. There is an attempted assassination on Costello by Vito Genovese in 1957 that leads to the emergence of the Genovese Family. The change does little to effect him. He receives instructions every few weeks from Vito’s aide and continues to do his job, expanding drug distribution, overseeing a growing array of hookers, twice told to handle a hit, a wine steward behind a restaurant in Yonkers and a bus driver leaving for work in the Bronx. Both without any reason provided, both uneventful, except for the victims.
The Kennedy Administration begins to pressure mob activities. Vito Genovese is jailed on drug charges in 1962, but continues to run the mob using Gerado Catena as his underboss. The Washington pressure subsides after JFK’s assassination.
“There is a noise in the air. A haunting sound none of us hear, but all of us pay attention to. It feels like a nation-wide mourning of more than the loss of a man, a president. It’s the loss of our foundation, nothing that made sense makes sense anymore.” Randy Denson is a high school student sitting in a hang out in Atlanta, thinking about a future that’s less clear, now that Camelot has vanished. ‘I Will Follow Him’ by Little Peggy March plays from the jukebox.
“You need to lighten up,” David Casteel sits with him, the cynicism of the 60’s germinating within, “He got shot. It was the CIA. Oswald has a stooge. Everybody knows that. They got Ruby to shut him up. Meanwhile, Russia is beating us to the moon, we’re blowing nukes underground in Nevada, LBJ is screwing Jackie. You need a Trip-Nik from AAA to guide you from here?” Skeeter Davis’s ‘The End of the World’ is ending, Lesley Gore’s ‘It’s My Party’ is in the cue. “Here’s the answer, brother.” Casteel shows Denson a ‘dime bag’, a pouch of marijuana. They step into the alley and light a joint rolled by Casteel. Denson inhaled, coughed and passed it back to Casteel. “I don’t like it. Can’t focus.”
Casteel held his smoke longer, exhaled and said, “Man, who the fuck wants to focus.”
In 1964, Avery receives orders from “Jerry” Catena to spend a few years in South America, using his language skills to convince the locals and rebels to increase the production of coca. He meets with Catena in person at Doral in Miami. They are just starting the back nine when Catena springs it on him,“I hear ya speak Mexican real good, kid. That true?”
“Si,” Avery smirks.
“Ya look a little Mexican too. That’s good.”
Avery resents the remark. He’s proud of his Sicilian heritage, “I don’t agree. You’re in the rough on your first drive. Maybe it’s your eyesight.”
“Hey, who the fuck ya think you’re talking to? If I say ya look Mexican, ya look Mexican. You agree with that?” Catena storms off toward his ball. He hits it thin. Avery intentionally shanks his shot, landing a few yards from Catena, just to get close.
“Yeah. I agree with that.”
“Alright. So, I’m sending ya to South America. We need more coca out of there. Make it happen.”
“Columbia?” Avery needs some clarification.
“Yeah. Coke demand is going through the roof. Ramp up the supply, cut through the crap. Work with Pablo Escobar. He heads up the Medellin Cartel.”
Avery is impressed by Catena’s articulation. He didn’t expect many specifics. He takes the initiative, “They need more processing. I’d like to set up a company, something I’ll run, to keep it clean.”
“I don’t give a shit how ya do it, just do it.” Catena tries to lift his ball out of the rough, but tops it. He picks it up with his hand and pitches it toward the green. Avery grins and does the same. Catena starts laughing, pulling a flask from his hip pocket, taking a swig and passing it with a chuckle, “Drink up, kid. Escobar will probably kill ya. Might as well enjoy life while ya can.”
Fortunately, Catena is wrong. Avery and Escobar meet,
“I’m not here for Catena. I’m here for me. You can kill me or use me. Your call.”
“Interesting start. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I should sell out my suffering people, let it go and listen to a spic. Maybe I should suck your dick at the Carnaval de Barranquilla.”
“Maybe I should show you how to pocket more pesos, get the ‘National Front’ off your ass and screw the boys out of seventy percent of their take.”
His relationship with Escobar gives Avery a chance to proceed with his plans and develop a network of small processing plants, exceeding US cocaine demand. He sets up a shell of a corporation he names Hampton International and expands into a variety of export operations to multiple markets.
“Hampton International is a stack of papers, reports, government filings, not a place you can visit,” he tries to explain to Catena during a visit back the following year.
“What’s the fuckin’ point?” Catena is standing in a trap, vigorously shaking the sand out of his left shoe, not enjoying the morning.
“It’s a laundry, the money goes in dirty, comes out clean. Nothing traceable, no one accountable. Taxes get paid after the inflated costs of capital are depreciated on an accelerated basis. It works.”
Catena scowls, “I don’t know what the fuck you are talking about, but my accountant likes it, says he understands it. Says you’re smart, creative. Just don’t cheat me out of a dime or I’ll throw you and your fuckin’ reports into a shredder, feet first.”
“Relax. You’ll see.”
Within months the mob is pleased with the results and blind to Avery skimming half the take before it leaves the country. Hampton International swells in size and diversity.
In April 1968 Avery is summoned to New York. He spends weeks waiting, meeting with various underlings and always keeping in touch with his South American contacts. He spends his evenings alone in his hotel room, stroking Caesar, turning the channel knob between Laugh-in and specials on the recent death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
He shops for his food from the Essex Street Market, examining for freshness by color and texture. He eats alone, picking from bags of fruit and vegetables, sitting and eating on random stoops.
One of the Saturdays, the mist of rain blows sideways, soaking the sparse citizenry forced by various purposes onto the streets. Avery leaves the hotel and hails a cab.
“Just get on the interstate.” He hands the driver two twenties, “Either direction, I don’t care.”
“No problem, sir.” The driver heads to the entrance. Avery spots the grey Lincoln tailing them.
“The next exit, pull off onto the black top suddenly, just before the ramp and stop. Get ready.”
The driver shakes his head, but agrees. Cash is cash.
The driver swings to the side. The Lincoln can’t react in time and passes, not knowing whether to go up the ramp or not.
“Okay. They went up the ramp. Go ahead and take the next exit and head back toward Broadway.” Avery is pleased with himself. Had the Lincoln driver not taken the ramp, Avery would have instructed the cabbie to take it. Either way, they would have lost the tail.
It’s still drizzling as he leaves the cab at Bleecher and 7th Street, confident he is not being followed and purchases a ticket at The Actor’s Playhouse for a production of “The Seven Descents of Myrtle”. He sits obscurely at the rear of the mostly empty theatre well before the play begins.
He opens the program and reads about the cast. He runs his finger over the name of the actress playing Myrtle, Candice Pearl.
“She looks like Mama,” Avery mutters to himself when she first appears. He tries to focus on her movements, her grace on stage. He can’t take it. He leaves after the first act, walking in the rain three miles to his hotel.
He shares his feelings with Caesar, clenched in his damp hand, “How I can talk to her? What would I say? The truth about our Papa would only add to her sorrow. And if I lied, it would only add to my sins.”
That Monday, he finally receives instructions. He is to meet secretly with Carlo Gambino at the Mark Hotel.
Gambino is the ‘boss of bosses’. He looks and acts like a powerful mobster. His ‘brains’ come from Meyer Lansky, the founder of the National Crime Syndicate. Gambino carries out Lansky’s advice without question. Avery thinks, “Gambino’s got the muscle. Who cares who calls the shots.” They meet in a suite at the luxury hotel. Avery is seated next to one of the two men protecting Gambino. Gambino comes in, nods to both men and sits before Avery. Gambino’s face is dominated by a hugh beak. His eyes are tightly spaced and his squint hides all signs of life. Only the dark brown beads of his pupils stare at Avery as he starts,
“I don’t like to speak. This is what you need to know.” Gambino pauses. Avery speculates Gambino is trying to remember the sequence of Lansky’s orders, “I am impressed by you, so far, Had you watched for six weeks. My men are rarely spotted, even once. You spotted them twice.”
‘Four times,” Avery mumbles.
“Four?” Gambino looks up at the thug at the door. “You spotted them twice more than they know?” He shakes his head, “You know you just cost someone their balls, don’t you?” “Yeah, I know” Avery stares down at his fingertips.
Gambino seems thrown off tempo, but gathers his thoughts and regains control as he goes on, “We tailed you to confirm you were trustworthy. You are. Fine. The real point was to be sure no one else was tracking you. You are of no interest to anyone from what we can tell. That matters.”
“My accountant says it’s nuts to involve you in a hit, that you’re too valuable with all your numbers and shit. But Lansky wants to test you. I finally gave in.” Avery suspects Gambino wasn’t given a choice, possibly not even a say.
Gambino reaches for a folder, pulls out a photo and hands it to Avery, “Here’s the hit
Avery looks at the photo and catches his breath, careful not to show any emotion, but inside, he’s overwhelmed for the first time in years.
Gambino understands, “Yeah. Pretty big deal.”
Avery considers Gambino’s comment the understatement of the century. He’s determined to keep his cool as he asks, “What do I need to know?”
“Relax. We don’t expect you to do the hit yourself. Hell, we don’t want you to. This kill has to be as removed from us as possible.” Gambino hands Avery a file with a second photo. Avery is puzzled.
“He’s an Arabian nut-job. He’s on his own. He’s gonna to try to make the score no matter what we do. We just want one of us to guide him, make sure he pulls it off. That’s your job.”
Avery scans the file, already planning his actions.
“You make sure he gets it done. That’s all. We think he’ll get shot or strangled the minute he makes starts firing, but if he’s not, you make sure he doesn’t talk.”
Gambino adds, “Stay in the background. If you are so much as questioned afterwards, you’re a dead man.”
“Got it.” Avery nods, trying not to show his disdain,
“If it all works out, we may give you some trucking, maybe some packaging. Make your little company more legit. We’ll see.”
Avery considers the promises an overkill, so to speak. Not necessary. The boys must want this bad. They know he’ll get it done. They wouldn’t have given it to him otherwise. He walks out of the suite, empowered, determined, taking his pet from his pocket, “Well, Caesar, time to make history.”
Bobby Kennedy expected to run for President in 1968 from the day his brother Jack was nominated in 1959. After his eldest brother, Joe dies in the war, his father made his plans clear to the three remaining sons. First Jack, then Bobby, then Teddy. It would be a twenty-four year American Presidential regime.
Of course, none of them expected it to turn out this way with Bobby running to recapture the position bungled by LBJ after Jack’s assassination in 1963.
Bobby doesn’t have his brother Jack’s charisma. He knows he does not compare to Jack as a public speaker, an articulate leader. Yet he has his own strengths. He leads from his heart. And he is fearless.
It takes awhile, but the party gradually sees Bobby can win, that he can beat Humphrey, then overtake the Republican nominee, probably Nixon. The ground swell for Bobby takes hold in early 1968, eight months before the election.
Public sentiment regarding Vietnam is shifting Bobby’s way daily. His support of Israel expands his funding. His reputation as Attorney General under his brother’s administration and later as a Senator, including his daring stand against organized crime arms Bobby with credibility and credentials. He is destined to be the next President of the United States. The syndicate understands what that means to them.
Heavy traffic slows the drive from LAX through Pasadena to Arcadia, home of Santa Anita Park. Avery has no difficulty locating Sirhan Sirhan at the race track. The twenty-four year old is a stable boy.
Avery watches him for the day, comfortable Sirhan is the real thing. The young man never speaks to anyone. He appears to be responsible for maintaining a single area of stalls, isolated from the rest, wiping down the horses, feeding, watering and endlessly shoveling, pushing their manure into piles, then straining to transport a wheelbarrow and its contents to a field in the rear.
When caught up on his chores, Sirhan slips into the same empty stall to rest. Avery stands in a shadowy spot behind a stack of bales in an adjacent stall. As Sirhan kneels to pray, Avery speaks to him in Yiddish, “I am a spirit summoned by your friend, Alvin. I am here to guide you to your destiny which is to save the world from the Zionist devil, before it’s too late.”
Sirhan is captivated in an instant, thirsting for someone to understand why Kennedy must die. He drops to his knees, bows his head and listens to his new spiritual guide.
This is no stab in the dark. Avery knows of Sirhan’s obsession, his hatred of Israel, his belief in the occult. Sirhan’s desperation in talking about killing Kennedy to a local garbage collector, Alvin Clark is one of the ways the mob knows of Sirhan. Avery is merely playing on this knowledge. From this moment forward, Sirhan is his puppet.
He speaks to him daily, remaining in a lurch, encouraging Sirhan, talking about when and how to act, how close to get, how rapid the shots, how to escape, even though Avery knows escape is impossible.
On the evening of June 4, 1968, Bobby Kennedy wins the California Democratic Primary and gives a rousing speech at the Ambassador Hotel. He speaks of Vietnam and shares his mourning of Martin Luther King, Jr. He finishes just after midnight.
RFK shouts into the mike, “It’s on to Chicago, and let’s win there!” The supportive crowd cheers. His wife, Ethel, pregnant with their eleventh child beams with pride.
He is escorted by his personal team of ex-athletes through a door behind the stage, through the pantry area where the kitchen staff wait to greet him as he passes through. It’s a historic exit route, used by Presidents and candidates past.
Sirhan is allowed into the Embassy Room without question, without a search. In 1968, the US Secret Service is not responsible for presidential candidates. That changes after tonight.
At Avery’s direction, Sirhan is standing and listening to RFK, ready to follow the entourage through the exit door. Bobby stops in the kitchen to shake hands. He is talking with a busboy as Sirhan pushes forward until he is close enough to RFK to touch him.
“Kennedy, you son of a bitch!” Sirhan’s Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver fires at RFK at close range. Two or three bullets enter Bobby from the front, other bullets fly wildly.
All eyes are on Sirhan. Screams echo off the stainless steel cabinetry. Dozens shout, “Oh God! No! Stop him! Stop him!” More bullets are fired.
Avery is standing directly behind Kennedy. He sees Sirhan’s shots are not fatal. In the midst of the mayhem, Avery dashes his hand upward and places a single bullet into Bobby’s brain stem from behind, then fades into the madding crowd.
There is pandemonium as pro football player Rosey Grier and others pounce on Sirhan. Gold medalist Rafer Johnson and writer George Plimpton catch Bobby’s fall, but are helpless from the onset.
Bobby is on his back, arms outstretched. The busboy manages somehow to place a rosary in his hand. Ethel is yelling over the crowd, “Get back, all of you! For God’s sake, give him room to breath.”
The loudspeaker is shouting for a doctor. More screams. Sirhan is cached into a mass of desperate men. He breaks free and manages to again grab his gun. Fortunately, the bullets have all been fired.
Kennedy, laying on the floor, not yet unconscious, speaks his final words, “Is everybody safe, okay?” He seems to recognize Ethel as he is placed onto a stretcher.
He is rushed to a hospital. Bobby Kennedy’s twenty-six hour struggle to survive never has a chance.
Avery is disappointed Sirhan is not shot down on the spot. However, he is confident the crazed radical has nothing to say to implicate Avery or the syndicate. LAPD arrives at the scene. Within minutes, they arrest Sirhan and declare to the press that he is the ‘sole assassin’.
The nation mourns. First JFK, then King, now Bobby. At his funeral at St. Patrick’s in New York City, his brother Teddy eulogizes him, ending with RFK’s famous phrase, “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”
As expected, Sirhan’s rambling confessions and withdrawals only serve to confuse everyone, including the prosecution. Sirhan is found guilty amid a replication of the kind of conspiracy theories that trailed his brother’s assassination, i.e., a second gunman, CIA involvement, anti-Castro sentiment and the like. The implications of the coroner’s discovery, that the “death bullet” was fired from behind feed the frenzy, but the prosecution ignores it. The case is already too controversial, too complex.
No one connects the killing to the mob.
Avery leaves LA and awaits word from Gambino. It takes two months, but it comes.
Gambino scolds him, “You pull out a gun and shoot Kennedy in front of all those people? I told you not to get directly involved.”
Avery stares him down, “You told me you wanted Kennedy dead. He’s dead. What’s the problem?
“What if you’d been ID’d or grabbed?”
“You had to have been there. I could have been the fuckin’ pope and nobody would have noticed. Not in those first few seconds of panic. I knew that and made the call, the right call.”
Gambino obviously gets it, still, he adds, “Yeah, but the coroner, Noguchi is yackin’ about the killing bullet coming from a different angle, the rear.”
“So? Gun’s clean. Worse case is they confirm there’s a second hitter. Doesn’t connect us in any way.”
Gambino threatens, “Don’t ever disobey me again.” He mellows, “But, I agree. You did good, kid.”
“I’m not a ‘kid’, I’m a businessman, with a successful company that processes cash faster that you can print it. I need more business, more volume. You said you’d take care of me.”
Gambino nods, “Let me see what I can do.”
Gambino does a lot. Avery Perelle is a hero within the syndicate. He calls Gambino two weeks later, “Thanks for the trucking operation. It provides a strong base. But what about containers?”
“What are you talking about? Containers?”
“The Teamsters are giving me a hard time. They’re going along with their drivers hauling freight, but the trucks that are imported and exported are technically ‘containers’, on wheels. They’re saying they are not trucks”
“What? If it’s a fuckin’ box and it’s got wheels and pulled by a semi, it’s a fuckin’ truck.”
“My sentiments exactly. Call Tony for me. Get this straightened out.”
Avery is amused. Giving orders to Carlos Gambino. Sure enough, the problem is cleared in days.
“Ya got your fuckin’ containers. Tony went straight to Hoffa at his place in Lake Orion, northwest of Detroit, “Now ya happy?”
“Yes, I am. This business will be tucked into the drug and whore biz, burying the profits and avoiding taxes. I’ve got Hampton set up so complex, my own CPA can’t understand it anymore.” Avery almost grins.
“I like the way ya think, kid. Keep at it.” Gambino has no idea what he is talking about.
Avery takes advantage and assumes control of increasing portions of trucking, container distribution, and all of South American prostitution, melding it into his complex shell game of companies. Hampton International becomes a convenient wash room for much of the mob’s activities. Avery’s relationship begins to change with the mob becoming dependent on him more than the other way around.
“So, Caesar, you and me, let’s take these bums over. What do you say?” ****************************
Organized crime flourishes in the 70s and 80s. Congress is preoccupied, first with Vietnam, then Watergate, then Nixon’s pardon, then Jimmy Carter. The US is stressed.
In 1971, ‘The Godfather’ becomes a runaway best seller. Avery is as interested in the story as are his associates. Mario Puzo, the author, walks a thin line between fact and fiction. His depiction of the Mafia wars are eclipsed by the real gang wars that follow, killing thousands. Ironically, as the real life bodies pile up, the public lines up, fascinated by this new genre of film.
Gambino is sharing drinks with Avery at a private bar in Harlem. Gambino is soused, slurring, “So, who does a better job playing me, Brando or De Niro? What?”
“Neither. You’re not Vito, you’re more like an elder, more distinguished version of Sonny. You remind me of Sonny, James Caan, ya know?” Avery is being sarcastic. Many movie fans think Caan is too handsome for the role.
“Caan? I was like him once, ya know. Used a trash can to beat the shit out of guy, too. Yeah. I like that.”
“That’s what I mean. And when Sonny gets shot up at the toll booth, I can’t help thinking of you.” Avery enjoys digging into Gambino, amused by Gambino’s consistent failure to get the joke. Gambino’s body guard, Jimmy Nelson is standing close and snickers. Gambino glares at him. Gambino’s clearly comfortable with Avery. It’s a relationship unlike any other. He continues, “You, you’re Pacino, all the way.”
Avery lifts his glass of Pinot and almost whispers his response, “No, I’m not. I’m Averado Perillo, superiore.”
“Fuck that. Nobody’s superior to me. Or Lansky. Got that, kid?” Gambino’s piercing stare is disturbing.
“I’ve got a flight to catch.” Avery stands and starts to leave.
“Hey, I asked you a question, kid. Answer me.?” Gambino can’t believe it when Avery starts to walk out. Nobody walks out on Carlos Gamino. He motions to Nelson to stop him. “Never, ever touch me.” Avery’s tone momentarily freezes Nelson.
Avery is gazing at Nelson, but speaking to Gambino, “I have control of all of your accounts. I can make everything disappear with a phone call.” He turns to face Gamino and threatens, “I know what you’re thinking. Don’t. Something happens to me and it will take a squadron of accountants to unravel your holdings. By the time they do, you and Lansky will be in Quentin on tax fraud, worse than tax evasion.”
Gambino is confused, uncertain of himself, needing to talk with Lansky, but afraid to admit to him he’s lost control. Avery straightens his jacket and adds, “Capire? Understand?”
He leaves. Gambino turns to Nelson and barks, “This never happened.” The guard doesn’t know how to react. He just stares straight ahead which frustrates Gambino more. He shouts, “I asked you, do you fuckin’ understand?” Gambino stands up and raises his hand to slap the guard, to take his frustration out after Avery’s bravado. Nelson nods quickly, repeatedly, knowing what Gambino and his temper can mean.
Avery takes his limo to the airport and sits in first class in the 747. The right side of the plane is the smoking section, the left side is non-smoking. Everyone ignores the meaningless distinction. Avery kicks back and tries to sleep.
It feels like home now whenever he returns to Columbia. Staying out of the New York gang wars helps him grow in power. He slowly amasses strength from his bases in Columbia, Peru and Mexico. By remaining remote and elusive, and benefitting from Gambino’s continued support, Avery’s business grows exponentially.
By the end of the 80s, Avery has expanded and transformed Hampton into an international concern. No longer tied to Latin America, he is always on the move, rarely staying more than a couple of nights in any one location. He strives to keep a low profile without ever losing control. By the mid-90s, he is one of the most powerful men in the world. His ties to the mob are still real, but Avery enjoys the right to do business any way he wants, anywhere he wants.
His appetite is insatiable, his methods heartless. No one can estimate the number of deaths and suffering he causes over the next several years. Directly ordered hits are in the dozens. Indirect deaths as the result of his drug and prostitution rings and his role in propagating Latin American rebels are in the thousands.
He sits alone each night, scrunching numbers on his HP, revising his business plans, lobbying key international connections, assessing his financial and personal risks. His lack of trust in others transitions to paranoia. He believes in no one but himself, and Caesar.
On the other hand, he’s smart enough to know he can’t do it all alone. He relies on a handful of capable direct reports sworn to do his bidding. He is highly selective, pushing back whenever the boys ask him to give responsibility to one of their bunch. Avery’s standards and requirements are far beyond the comprehension of the syndicate. He picks people he considers strong and resourceful, yet easy to remove if he loses faith for any reason.
Avery seeks and finds people with the management talent to oversee Hampton’s legit operations and the street smarts to manage the more discreet businesses of prostitution and drug distribution. William Brinkley is Avery’s choice for the US.
Brinkley is CEO of Hampton Enterprises, USA. He reports to Avery, yet they rarely speak. Brink enjoys his job and is grateful for each day he can avoid a reason to talk directly to Avery Perelle. When he must confer, it’s never comfortable.
There is no one like Brink. He stands out in the mind of everyone he encounters. He has all of his life. He is a very large man who cannot be described adequately without the adjective “huge” leading the charge. He believes a massive frame is a useful distraction from a birth abnormality that bothers him more than being overweight. His head is gigantic, twice the size anyone would consider normal. As a young boy, he is constantly teased. Cruel classmates call him ‘pumkinhead’ and ‘balloon-brain’.
“Hey Billy, I can set you up with Barbara. She’d love to give you a ‘little head’.” His classmates laugh thoughtlessly.
Brink rationalizes it is better to be fat in order for his head to be proportionally sized. Such a goal is not as easy as it looks. Constant consumption is a skill, like any other.
At six foot-two, three hundred and fifty pounds, he’s determined to inflate his body further. Yet Brink doesn't act or move like a fat man. His presence cuts like a cleaver, carving away notice of his surplus flesh. The powerful impression he conveys is clear. Step aside, Brink is coming through.
His success story is equally unique. He was born in 1960 to poor parents, immigrants who move from NYC to the West Coast when Brink is a small child. In spite of the odds against him, he excels at all school subjects and graduates at the young age of fifteen from South High. It is notable for an adolescent boy to do so well academically while getting an equivalent education in the streets. By age sixteen, Brink is dealing horse to fifty year-old dying junks in the alleys of South L.A. That is when he is accepted into the biggest gang in the area, Florencia.
Brink is walking home down Florence with purpose, his brown leather air force jacket a trade he made with the only junk he ever knew large enough to fit him, is thinking, “It’s too fuckin’ dark out, fuckin’ daylight-savings screws me up every time.” He’s not afraid, he simply prefers seeing his food, missing the ooze of cream as he bites into a Ding-dong.
Three of the Florencia’s gang's members are walking his way, they’ve seen him before, hard to miss, huge, white and always eating, but never at night. This is new. One of them calls out, “Vistasa a la grasa jefe!” Brink only knows a few Spanish words. Fathead is one of them. He stops and turns and irrationally swings at the guy. His punch connects but does little more than piss off the three of them. Two of them grab his arms, working to hold up his monstrous frame while the third pummels him mercilessly.
They proceed to beat the crap out of him, nearly killing him, stopping just short of his final collapse because, not only does Brink never stop fighting back, throughout the beating he never utters a sound, not a cry, a groan or a word. The gang members are impressed. They let him drop to the pavement.
"El orgullo." the tallest of the three says. Pride. Brink becomes the first white member of the respected gang. Even though their territory is predominantly Hispanic, Alerico, their gang leader has often spoke of how it would come in handy now and then for the gang to have a white guy available, a ‘cracker’ they can trust.
From sixteen to nineteen years old, Brink gains a reputation within Florencia. If you disagree with him, you’ll have to kill him to stop him and, he is smart. Every one agrees. If you need to put a complex deal together, bring Brink in early.
“I like to map out strategies with your pachucos and their ‘firms’, Alerico. I need the pesos for colegio. Brink rationalizes a college education will give him a permanent edge over ninety-nine percent of the thugs in the business. Alerico responds, “Usted no habla español bien. Lo deja,” Alerico is articulate, “Just speak English, we all understand you. You will go far. Do not forget us, eh, amigo.”
He is living at home with his parents in Inglewood. His Italian father, Benito lays carpet by day and works evenings bussing tables at a nearby diner. His Persian mother, Mishea is not permitted by Benito to work. She is an avid reader who spends her life immersed in reading fiction. It is not easy for her to face the reality of an abusive husband and an uncontrollable, unsightly son. When she finds a steel case full of cash in Brink’s bedroom closet, hidden behind a stack of boxed, plastic-wrapped muffins, it takes her days to finally address him.
“Where did you get this money?” Mishea pulls the case from her son’s closet.
“I...play the numbers, Ma. I’m very good at it.”
“You do not. I know what you do. This is Satan’s money. Get it out of my house or I will tell Papa.”
“No, you won’t. You won’t tell Papa anything. I know that. He’ll blame you, not me. He’ll silence you, tie you up again, whip you again. I want to use this money to save you and save me from his bitterness, his control. You have to trust me, Ma.” Brink opens a can of salted almonds, empties half its contents into his palm and pours them into his wide-angled mouth.
Mishea stares at him with determined finality. A leaf blower stops its roar outside his rustcrusted screen window, resulting in eerie silence in the small room. Mishea’s eyes moisten as she kneels before her son on the bedroom floor, confessing, “No. I do not deserve to be saved. I do not want to be saved. Just go, leave this house. I will tell Pa nothing. He will not care if he thinks you ran away, if there is no one to blame. You know that is true.”
A long moment of silence sustains the reality of their dysfunctional family. Brink touches and gently pats her thinning scalp. He packs a second small case and leaves without another word. Mishea stands in the doorway, her head nodding slowly, tears meandering down her cheeks. She knows her son is driven to hell. She tries hard to absorb all the guilt.
At age twenty, Brink has enough money to quit the streets and start classes at UCLA. That is not enough for him. While attending school he markets several street-walkers, putas initially, working Torrance and Gardena at night. He dresses the girls conservatively, gives them business cards, Blue Cross cards and fake ID’s.
“Never say you will provide sex for money. Tell them you find them attractive. Imply what you will do by using body language, hand gestures, touching yourself at the opening you think he’s after. Then ask for a ‘loan’ to help you temporarily. Promise repayment, offer your ID. You won’t fool the cops, but they won’t be able to prosecute you. Understand?”“What if a guy says something like ‘Hey, I’ll give you fifty bucks for a blow job?’” “Then tell him you are not a prostitute and that it is illegal to solicit sex for money. Go back to the body language routine. If he doesn’t catch on, simply walk away.”
In three years, along with earning a BS in Management, he upgrades his ‘product’ and develops a high-priced call girl network throughout Southern California. It takes a decade, but Brink’s operation continues to grow. In 1990, he is operating out of four states with two hundred and ten girls. He uses colored flyers, invites clients to join a membership he forms, arranges for entertainment at business seminars. He’s the first to use computers, long before Al Gore claims to have invented the internet. His business model is solid.
Sitting in his three bedroom apartment at the foot of Palos Verdes, watching a VHS of his idol, Chef Paul. Brink wipes his chin and reluctantly answers an unexpected call, “Who is it?”
“I’ve been watching you for three years. Quite remarkable.”
Brink doesn’t recognize the voice, except he can tell it is scrambled, “Who is this?”
Avery responds, “You may know my name someday. We will meet perhaps, if it’s ever necessary. Doesn’t matter right now. I want to acquire your business. I’m quite impressed.”
“Why would I even talk with you?” Brink starts to hang up.
“Because I know....” Avery tells him something Brink believes no one except his immediate family knows. It’s a closely held secret. Brink is bewildered,
“How could you possibly know that?”
“It doesn’t matter. Just sell me your business.”
“Why on earth would I sell my business? I’ve got it made. I don’t need money.”
“You don’t need money to live, but you don’t have the money it will take to expand to the level you would like. Not the kind of funding I can provide.”
“I’m not going to negotiate with someone who refuses to identify himself. I don’t even know if you have what it would take.”
“Call your bank and check your balance. I will call you back in fifteen minutes.” The phone goes dead.
Brink is curious and somewhat amused by the mystery man’s bravado. He spears three Vienna sausages and calls his bank, “Eight million? Did you say eight million? As of when?”
Brink answers the stranger’s second call with a new attitude. He tries hard to restrain himself, “You’ve already transferred the funds. What makes you think that’s enough?”
“Because it’s a couple million more than the number you had in your head.” Avery is careful not to make any ‘head’ jokes.
“Part of the acquisition deal is for you to stay on and manage the expansion, reporting to me.”
The next several years are wildly successful. At age thirty-five he is appointed to his current position at Hampton USA.
Brink delegates Hampton’s legit businesses, including packaging and trucking to his COO, Tim Anthony. Brink continues to oversee US drug distribution and the call girl operation personally, with the help of his 6’ 9” HR Director, Jack Smoley.
The call girl operation is complex. Brink runs it like a business "because it is a business," he often proclaims. He looks after a network of two thousand girls, outcall only, in forty states.
“Jack, I need someone who knows people, an HR guy, like you.” Brink meets Jack Smoley at a Grand Buffet in Boca during the “early bird” hours, the place is packed, forcing them to sit together.
“I’m glad to hear you don’t have any social hang-ups. My girls, my ‘associates’ are all between the ages of eighteen and thirty. They’re independent contractors earning consulting fees paid out of their gross profit. I need someone like you to add in incentive compensation, weekly medical exams, a car allowance, whatever.” Brink stabs one of Smoley’s meatballs, “all reported appropriately on 1099 tax forms each year. The business is listed as ‘image consulting’. It is the most lucrative call girl network in the world. You interested?”
“Ah, certainly. I’m not sure my people skills are fully appreciated by my employer, the US Customs Agency. Would I be doing any interviewing, screening---?”
“And exit reviews, including ‘severance’ if you know what I mean.” Brink looks over at the line at the buffet, frustrated.
“Well, let’s face it, it’s all about money in the end. How much we talking?” “Including the interviews, about $100k.”
Smoley almost chokes. That’s double what he’s making. Brink is surveying his tray. Smoley tries replying, “I was thinking about $110k.”
“Fine, I’ll take $110k, if that’s what you’re willing to pay me.” Brink starts laughing long before Smoley gets it. Smoley kicks in, chuckling, “How about performance reviews and---”
Brink cuts him off, “Start with getting me some food. Fried chicken, gravy on the white, no gravy on the dark. Cut in front of that blue-haired bitch with the cane.”
A month into the job, Smoley recommends letting the girls fix their own prices and options, “Some of the girls prefer to generate revenue through volume. Others choose to attend to fewer clients, offering more specialized or unusual services. I’ve given each girl a weekly minimum revenue target. If we applied my comp plan to last year, ninety percent of his girls would have met or exceeded their minimums.”
Brink likes that ratio. So does Avery.
Brink’s business education is helpful in developing a method to monitor the operation. The girls are on an honor system, reporting all of their dates, times, locations, durations, and transmitting/wiring their net revenue weekly via encrypted e-mail. Brink believes in Reagan's notion of trust, but verify. His ‘honesty audit’ assures all dates and revenue are reported precisely. There is one field auditor for every fifty girls, forty auditors in all. The girls don't know their auditor, so there is no chance of complicity. Each girl is audited two to three times a year on a random basis for a seven day period. No girl knows when her audit will take place, so they are always at risk if their weekly report is inaccurate. Like an IRS TIP audit. During the audit, the girl's phone, apartment and PC are tapped. Several times during the week, they are tailed by the auditor with stops recorded for comparison with subsequent reports. Any disparity constitutes an infraction. One infraction, typically an unreported date, costs the girl twenty percent of her commission for the following thirty-day period. Two infractions cost her fifty percent. Three infractions result in the loss of a finger.
Smoley is sitting next to a petite blonde in Brink’s private conference room. Brink is standing as he speaks sharply to the fear-stricken woman, “Look, you blew it. You know the rules. Ya know, in some organizations, you’d be deep-sea fish food tonight.”
“Mr. Brinkley, I’ll do anything.” The girl starts weeping, her mascara rolling over her cheek implants, “I’ll work free for a year. Just please, have mercy on me. Please, I beg you,”
Brink changes tone, “Hey, calm down. Have a muffin.” He pushes one into his mouth, searching for a napkin as the crumbs spill out the sides of his mouth. Still chewing and swallowing, he adds, “Look, I’m not without compassion. I’ll give you a choice.”
“You will? Oh, thank God. Oh thank you, sir. You won’t be sorry, I promise.”
“In fact, I’ll give you ten choices.” He grabs a Kleenex and dabs his mouth, “You pick the finger.”
The girl is slow to understand, ”What?”
“Smoley, take it from here.” Brink walks out of the conference room abruptly as Smoley grips her arm. Brink commends himself for the investment in soundproofing the room.
He stands at the urinal, looking down pointlessly. His bloated stomach has hidden his manhood for years. He likes his job, except for the hard parts, like digit amputation. Fortunately, such tasks can always be passed downward. He reiterates his management philosophy, “It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.” He chuckles to himself, “I just love delegation.”
It is June 1998 when Brink receives the word. Avery Perelle wants to meet with him. He is excited, “The most powerful man in the world”, he shouts, “whatta ya think of that, Papa?”
Brink meets Avery at Daniel’s restaurant. They prepare to dine in a dimly lit private room in the cellar of one of NYC’s finest. Caesar V is running the treadmill in a plastic cage placed on the serving table. The bread basket is half emptied by Brink before the conversation goes beyond a simple greeting, “So, I finally get to meet the infamous Avery Perelle.”
“Thank you. Enough of that crap though, all right?”
Brink speaks with bread and buttered teeth, “I understand. It’s just I tried to learn more about you over the past few years. I can’t find anyone who ever met you, knows anything about you. The few I think might know something shut up the minute I mention your name.”
“Then wouldn’t I be notorious, rather than infamous?”
Brink is impressed by Avery’s intellect. He chastises himself for expecting less.
Avery adds with disdain, “Hey, I give you credit for learning my real name. That tells me I’m still vulnerable.”
Brink wants to impress Avery, “I’ve had an easier time understanding the structure of Hampton. Very creative.”
“You don’t understand it, trust me.”
“Not completely. There’s a few missing pieces. Basically, you’ve designed the company not unlike the Japanese keritsu system, a network of suppliers, banks, and trading companies, all lending to and investing in each other. Correct?
“That’s part of it.” Avery is pleased to know his instincts regarding Brinkley are right.
“It’s the cash that can’t be traced. And the fact that the banks are all offshore, drawing off the pound and mark instead of dollars.”
Avery is impressed.
“I can’t confirm it, of course, but it appears the twenty-seven companies making up Hampton are all owned by companies that don’t exist. Hampton, technically doesn’t exist, does it?”
“You’re right.” Avery sips on his water, “You can’t confirm it. Might that be intentional?”
“I thought so, but then, where’s all the money?”
“That, my little food processor, will remain the mystery of the ages.” He reaches over and shakes Caesar’s cage, waking him up.
“Must be in a Swiss bank, numbered. I’m surprised though, they have ‘officially’ stopped that practice.” Avery doesn’t react.
“I could use something like that. I’m generating a lot of cash from my own business and can’t drop it out of sight.”
Avery is interested, “What do you mean?”
“Well, this internet thing is hot. An untapped golden opportunity. I use it for the girls, but that’s nothing, a drop in the bucket. Are we gonna eat soon?”
Avery glances at the handsome server waiting in the corner, ready to take their order. He calls him over to the table and introduces him, “Brink, this is Josh. He doesn’t work here, except for tonight. He’s my personal assistant.”
Brink looks the man over. He is tall, slim, muscular.
“Josh will take our order, select and pour the appropriate wine, and he’ll kill you with his bare hands if you say or do anything I don’t like. Nothing personal, standing orders.”
Brink swallows, unable to ignore Josh's mannerly nod and calmness, “Sir, I get it. What do you suggest we start with, to eat, I mean?”
Avery looks up at Josh, “What do you suggest, Josh, based on what you tasted?”
“It’s a superb menu, sir. May I suggest the lamb, or the veal?”
“Go ahead, Brink.”
Brink looks up at Josh, “That sounds good.”
Josh frowns and asks, “Which one, sir?”
“Make the veal my appetizer, rare, with a side of catsup.”
Avery orders, “I’ll trust you on the lamb, lightly pink, mint jelly, no potatoes. I’ll have some broth as Mr. Brinkley enjoys his appetizer.” He then asks Brink, “So, tell me more.”
“It’s the internet. It’s catching on like wildfire. Tens of thousands of people a day are using it. That’s just the start. As the speed increases, so will use. I’m already tapping in on it.”
“In what way?”
“Cars for example. I sell 5-6 a day.” “You’re a used car salesman? I knew I shouldn’t trust you.”
Brink thinks, “Wow, a joke from Avery Perelle!” He continues, “Not real cars. Wouldn’t touch one, don’t drive, steering wheels too close. No, this is all through the internet. There’s this auction site, see, like a computer connected garage sale. People are using it like crazy. Mostly small shit, but lately, they’re selling cars through it.”
“So, I find the ones that have been sold and resell them. Let me give you an example. Some guy sells a $20,000 used Lexus. The deal is done, but the screen is still posted, as “sold”. I copy the screen, picture, VIN, everything. I drop the “sold” and repost it for sale for $12,000.”
“Every two hours, the auction site purges shit like this, but by that time, a half dozen people have sent me an email asking questions about it. I tell them I’m leaving for Europe or something and want it sold today. I propose they submit a check to XYZ escrow for $5,000, I’ll ship them the car and if they are not thrilled, the escrow company will return their check. Works every time. People are just damn greedy.”
“I assume the escrow company is a shell?”
“Of course, but dressed up pretty. It has a new name every other week, but the webpage I set up says it’s been in business for forty years, five-star rating from Financial Times, shit like that. If they call, they get a custom voicemail.”
“Five bucks a pop times five a day, nine mil a year. Not enough to interest me.”
“Not yet, but that’s just the start. I’ve got other ideas. Investment firms, banks, trading houses are all pushing the internet. Their richest clients are jumping in. Their security is a joke, most of them use simple encryption, obvious passwords, some are starting to use firewalls, but they can be scratched.”
“How do you work that?”
“I have linked the wealthiest clients to accounts of mine I have set up within the same firm. I transfer their cash into my trading account before the market opens, play with it all day and transfer it back just before the market closes, keeping what I make, of course.” “That’s not transparent?”
“No, individual accounts aren’t on real time, yet, so there’s no interim activity reports. The client may see his balance drop on a down day, but he figures he’s just riding with the market. So, I push around ten mill or so of someone else’s money for a day, make a point or two while the market is hot. It adds up.”
“I like this. I want to be part of it. How can we partner up?”
Brink starts to choke, grabbing on the table cloth to catch anything tossed. He can’t believe his ears, Avery Perelle wants to partner with him.
“Relax. Think about it and let me know. In the meantime, I’m sure you know I’m here to discuss an entirely different matter. All your star wars scams aside, the real money is in heroin, at the source. That’s the core of my position.
“I understand, sir. I handle the US distribution, as you know. Am I doing something wrong?” Brink is anxious to hear how he will tie into all of this.
Avery ignores his question, “South American supplies are drying up. Politics and rebels and all. The source of poppy in the future is the Middle East. There is a new, major opportunity out of Afghanistan.
Brink vaguely knows where Afghanistan is located and bluffs, “I’m aware of that, sir.”
“Really? Well, the poppy will come out of Afghanistan and into a processing operation I’m setting up in bordering Pakistan. It’s complicated. I’m leaving in the morning to meet with the man who will set up the supply.”
Avery expands, “What I want you to do is solve the global distribution problem. You have sixty days to develop a system to efficiently distribute Ras’s volume of heroin out of Pakistan and into ports in Asia, Europe and North America. Josh will give you a spreadsheet on the projected volumes when we depart tonight.”
“I can do it, sir. I can make it happen. I understand logistics and supply-chain manag---”
“I know what you know and I have confidence. I have a strong lead for you, a company headquartered in LA. I’ll leave it up to you to make it happen. If it works, we’ll be partners, you’ll be in on the take, long-term. I’m leaving the boys out.”
Avery adds, “And if you shine, I will begin grooming you. I’ve got what, another dozen years? You’re the only person I know who at least vaguely understands my financial and tax structures. And I like this computer stuff. You could be the guy taking over the operations of Hampton International.”
This is what Brink has dreamed. To be internationally powerful, feared, respected, yet anonymous, rarely to be seen. They toast.
Avery likes Brink’s attitude and ideas and is amused by his shameless gluttony. He believes Brink is nearly as smart and ruthless as himself. And he will do what Avery asks.
Brink understands the plan. Steward Pharmaceuticals manufactures and ships their primary products from their new plant in Pakistan. Their legitimate exports are perfect to transport quantities of heroin that can be added to each shipping container before leaving the port of Karachi to ports in NYC, Seoul and London. The only difficulty is the head of Steward Pharmaceuticals, William Steward, is not willing to cooperate. Brink thinks, “It is not an insurmountable problem.”
He rises from his jet-black leather, structurally reinforced chair. His colorless office is on top of the Hampton building in Santa Monica overlooking the Pacific. Those who come to his office always say, “That is the most beautiful view I have ever seen” or words to that effect. Brink typically looks up, hearing the same words so often, “Oh, that. After awhile, it gets boring, like a cheap painting.”
In an exquisite suit, Brink dresses like the maitre d’ on a luxury cruise dining room, late seating. The Italian shoes are new. Brink explains to Smoley, “I go through a pair of shoes every two weeks. No choice, the smell of shoe polish ruins my appetite.” He changes into a grey and blue jumpsuit.
It’s a redundantly sunny Monday morning. Brink steps onto his treadmill in his office, and starts speeding along at 1.0 mpg while tearing open the wrapper of a Butterfinger and licking the chocolate off before deep throating the bar. He asks Smoley, “We have any girls in the LA area who aren’t afraid to get their hands a little dirty? Any that you would recommend?”Smoley doesn’t hesitate, “Yeah. The girl I have in mind may be perfect. Connie Watson. I hired her myself. She’s not quite twenty.“
Smoley can’t help overselling, “She’s on the run from something heavy that happened to her down in Orange County. She’s only worked for us a few months, straight off the streets, but she already has a reputation for totally satisfying her customers. Two of our wealthiest clients have booked her back to back, so to speak.”“Has she dated William Steward?”
Smoley checks his computer, “No. I don’t know why. He just hasn’t got around to her yet.”
Brink is pleased as he begins puffing, “Good. Think she’d do a set-up, something marginally illegal? And be trusted?”
“Yeah, she would. I’ve spent, ah, several hours with her, you know, talking, analyzing her and--”
“I bet you have.” Brink is heaving air as he opens a Laffy Taffy, “Anyway, she sounds like the one I need. Get her in here.”
Smoley phones her, “Connie, Mr. Brinkley wants to discuss---yes, Mr. Brinkley---he wants to discuss a business opportunity with you.” He pauses, listens, “I know. No, it’s fine.” He pauses again, “I’m sorry, didn’t know you were working.” He pauses again, “Well, no kidding, you can’t talk. Just get here in the next couple of hours. Okay?”
She was born Constance Torres on November 21, 1979 on the outskirts of Yorba Linda, California. She becomes Connie Watson years later. She grows up in a small, pinkish, run-down adobe ranch home encircled by a chain link fence. She’s an only child. Her father, David Torres is a car mechanic. Her Irish mother, Audrey, doesn't work outside the home.
When Connie is five years old, her father suddenly leaves. Her memory of him is only as a handsome, soft-spoken man who openly regretted not having enough time for his daughter. She doesn't understand why he left and why he never tries to contact her. It makes no sense to her.
He’s been kidnapped. Tortured! Her mother is devastated and embittered by the abandonment. She has little money and no skills or experience. At age thirty-four, she looks weary, recycled, her skin like open cartilage. Her make-up blotches her pale complexion. She dresses as though her clothes are tossed on with a pitchfork.
Connie wraps the rest of last night’s TV dinner’s in foil and puts it in her bag each day for lunch. Her thick red hair is always pulled back into a ponytail. Her two or three outfits are bought from a Salvation Army store, so she is never in style. At school, that seems to matter.
"Pathetic enough?" she yells to one of the pop stars in her first grade class.
Connie lives to read. Books substitute for an absent father. She brings home a variety each day and reads them until bedtime. She completes the “Miss Pickerell” series at age six, most of “Twain” by nine, “Defoe” at eleven, “Beowulf” at twelve, “War and Peace” at thirteen, “American Psycho” at sixteen.
"I'm surprised you managed to get through Beowulf," Mrs. Peterson says. The librarian is older than moon rock, "I'm very impressed."
"Oh, it's just a story about an indifferent dragon fighter and a demon mother who loses her head." Connie giggles, simplifying the plot. Connie is not dumb, just removed a bit from reality.
Mrs. Peterson and Connie's teacher, Mrs. Farmer encourage her to try writing, "Start with fictional short stories. Create a situation with believable characters. Outline the plot first. Always know where the story is headed. We think you may have natural talent."
"Oh, do some of the kids have unnatural talent?” Connie responds with a smile on the outside, a smirk tucked into her pink cheeks.
She writes dozens of thumbnails, jotting down ideas in a notepad she keeps with her always. She submits her first short story. Ms. Farmer and Ms. Peterson are intentionally frank in their reaction, "The story is simplistic, loaded with obscure analogies, and has an incessantly confusing plot,"
"Thank you," Connie reacts, "Mysteries are supposed to confuse you. That's what makes them fun."
At age sixteen, Connie starts to blossom. She grows to be 5'8”. She is still plain, her hair always pulled back, and she never uses make-up of any sort. Yet her features are striking. Her cheekbones and jaw line are those of a comic book heroine. Her eyes are like emeralds, distracting the boys from her pouty lips. Her body develops quickly with breasts large enough to cause posture problems. Almost overnight the boys who used to knock books out of her hands are knocking themselves out to get her attention. She is not interested. All she cares about is her mother and her future as a writer.
A brain is more important than a body, I think.
The only family she knows is Uncle Ted, a popular local minister. It is Uncle Ted who comes to school that day to tell her the shocking news.
"What? She's not dead!” Connie gasps, "Don't tell me that! You’re lying!”
Ted speaks gently, "No dearie, I'm afraid it's true. The Lord has taken her to a better place." Connie shakes her head sharply. She is devastated. She screams in pain and fear, "Mommy! Mommy! No! God! No!" as she runs down the school hall and bursts out the front door. Uncle Ted is driving along side her, yelling, “She’s not there.” Connie isn’t listening, “Alright, get in, I'll drive you, see for yourself.”
Her mind keeps shrieking, "No! It can't be.” She blasts through the front door, calling out, looking in closets, cupboards, finally resorting to groping the floors as if her mother is there and just can’t be seen. She cries, "Mommy! Mommy! Where are you?"
Audrey and her boyfriend, Jack, split up the night before. The emotion overpowers Audrey, raising her already high blood pressure. One might say Jack literally broke her heart. She is found with her hairbrush in her hand, leading to the conclusion it was instant. Lori finds some relief in that, but howls in pain each night nonetheless. She blames Jack. She blames her father. She blames Uncle Ted. She blames God.
The funeral is on Sunday morning. The bright sunshine and warm breeze offend the sorrow overhanging the burial. Connie secretly thinks her father might appear, escaping after somehow learning of her mom's death. Uncle Ted leads the service as a small tape recorder plays "Amazing Grace."
Mommy always loved bagpipes.
Connie moves in with Uncle Ted. She is not quite eighteen, so she has little choice. His two bedroom house is adequate, yet barren, with scores of dusty plastic flowers set in Mason jars. A movie poster of Jesus Christ, Superstar is the sole wall hanging above Uncle Ted’s chair in the living room. Christmas lights glisten around the frame each night thanks to a timer set for 8:00.
He provides her with her own room and bath, but she is not comfortable. In the evening he changes. He starts drinking, first wine, then Scotch and water, then Scotch, then home-brewed beer. The sweet Jeckyll he is during the day turns into an angry drunken Hyde each evening.
Uncle Ted is not a handsome man. His eyebrows are bushier than the hair growing out of his ears, which is considerable. He is overweight and dresses sloppily. Connie is embarrassed by his appearance. Yet he casts a twinkle from his eyes when he speaks. He preaches with passionate reverence resulting in his church brimming each Sunday morning.
One Sunday in June 1997, Reverend Ted Cummings speaks from the pulpit: “Starting today, you need to think of God and His creations in a new light.”
“We are all grateful to the Lord for creating the earth and giving us bodies to house our lost souls.”
“Today, I want you to ponder the extra gifts He provides. The things God does for us that are not essential. The parts of His creation intended to bring us pleasure while we are trying to save our pathetic selves.”
“God gives us the ability to hear and speak, to help us communicate. However, he also added a gift, the gift of music, for no reason but our enjoyment.”
“He created this planet, Earth, but was not content with its bland function. He added colors, scents, hills and valleys, butterflies, dolphins, sour mash, clouds, stars. These are among the millions of accessories God provides to create a better life for us, to ease us into the wonders of Heaven to come.” The organ strikes and holds a single Middle-C note.
“God gave us beasts to share our burden, to nourish our bodies, and to allow us to grow and prosper. Nevertheless, he gave the meat flavor and provided us taste buds and gravy, purely for our delight. Another gift.” The organ climbs to a sustained E-flat note.
“He gave us the instinct to procreate, to multiply. Then He added intense pleasure to the experience, as a gift, for men only, of course.” The organ reaches upward to a sustained G-note. His flock begins to stir.
"And finally,” the Reverend pauses for dramatic effect, “He gave us his only begotten Son." The organ shakes the room with a full C-chord followed by an expanded B-Major chord, reminiscent of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” the opening theme of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ted’s assistant, Sudsy flicks the house lights on and off, for effect.
The music stops suddenly. There isn't a sound in the room as the parishioner’s absorb the Reverend’s message. A shout of “Amen!” rings out from a single voice in a far corner. Then another, then more, then all the parishioners in unison, “Amen!”
“Ah, you all say Amen, let it be. Let it be so.” He suddenly begins shouting, his deep voice vibrating through the room, “That’s not enough!” Gasps from the disquieted crowd rob the room of air.
“It’s not enough to let it be!” Sudsy starts the record player alongside the stage, The sound of McCartney’s record soon comes to a scratching halt. The preacher glares down at his disciples, scowling at them with his piercing brown eyes, “Satan is not content to sit idly by as God bestows these blessings. The Devil provides gifts as well. The gifts of gluttony, perversion, malice, and greed. And as early as Cain, the gift of murder!”The room is hush. The silence shattering the thick, moist atmosphere.
“Satan offers you a choice. His demons want to enter your body, take possession of your soul, and suck you into Hell to join him in his eternal struggle to dethrone our Lord. Forever!”
“You,” he points at the folks in the first pew, “and you,” he raises his head and arms searching toward the back row, “and you and you. All of you. You must fight Satan, beat him, throw him off you, and grind him back into the Earth’s core!”
There is no hesitation. Immediate shouts of “Praise the Lord” echo throughout the church. Ted thinks to himself, “Elmer Gantry, eat your heart out.”
Connie beams. She is finally proud of her uncle, his disgusting looks aside.
That night, as usual, Uncle Ted goes into one of his drunken diatribes, "Damn that Mrs. Flatow, and that Pennington fool. Damn the whole congregation. Goddamn them all!” He starts gulping down water glasses full of Scotch. He turns to Connie and says, “And who do you think you are? You're just like your mother. You'll never amount to anything. You won't even make a good waitress.”He declares, “All the women are whores and they all want me.”
“They want you? Sudsy aside, I don’t think so.” Connie immediately regrets speaking up, knowing better than to argue with him when he’s drinking.
He stands and steps over to his back pack on the table. He starts yelling at her, pointing to a copy of the book, “The Zodiac Killer” she brought home from the library, “How dare you bring this sinful trash into my home.”
“That’s a highly praised best seller. I have a right to read what I want.”
He doesn’t appear to listen. He walks with the book to the sink, strikes a match and lights it on fire. He drops it, letting the book cloud the room with stink and smoke.
“I can’t believe you did that.” Connie tries to control her anger and begins picking up the dishes and placing them in the dishwasher. She is eager to finish and quickly locks herself in her room. She hears him stamping around, muttering, yelling profanities. She feels better when he slams close his bedroom door.
She’s undressed down to her bra and panties when he knocks on my door, "Open up," he roars, "I want to talk to you."
Connie is scared. She answers though the door, "I can't right now. I'm not dressed."
He rattles the doorknob. She grabs a towel just as the door blows open. Uncle Ted stands in the doorway, triumphantly. "You'll not lock me out of a room in my own house," he proclaims. He’s rubbing his sweaty forehead, sneering and glaring at her with a look that must be described as lecherous, "You prance around here in your little shorts, bending over in front of me, trying to get me to breach my oath to God, trying to control me. You're no different than all the other tramps in my parish.”
She is stunned by his words and terrified as he comes toward her, absolving, “I’ll show you who’s in control, you little tease, you evil little tramp!” He’s shouting now as he’s unbuckling his belt. He grabs her by both arms and throws his weight on her. He begins pawing, trying pathetically to kiss her, thrashing her forehead with his bushy eye brows. She’s thinking, "No! I'll be scarred for life.”
She struggles with all of her might, but knows she won't be able to fight him off, that he will take her. She begins to panic at the image of what’s certain to happen. She manages to wrench her right arm free as he’s tearing off her panties. He reaches down and unzips himself. There’s no question what he’s going to do.
She desperately reaches for her notebook on her pillow. She swings her hand like the claw of a derrick, barely able to touch the pad, but tips it, and the pencil inside rolls onto the bed. She grabs it just as he’s about to enter her. She knows what she has to do. She has to do it! She has only one chance. She holds the pencil tight in her fist with her thumb against the eraser and with all of her might and determination, shoves it smack into his left ear.
A spirit seems to lift his body off her. He floats upward to a stand, his eyes popping out and his tongue swelling up. He pulls the pencil out of his ear, looks at it as if perplexed how this simple object could harm him so severely, then stumbles back. He sucks in dueling lungfuls of air, teeters and falls face forward. He hits the bedstead on his way down. Suddenly, everything is silent. He doesn't move. Neither does Connie. She just stares at his blubbered body on the floor. She knows he’s dead.
Connie feels creepy reaching into his pants to get his wallet. She finds over two hundred dollars in cash and his car keys. She’s not a thief but she needs the money and car. She steps over his body a dozen times to put together a bag of essentials. It’s hard to ignore his smell.
Shaken, she locks the side door and leaves. Several lights and the TV are on. She doesn’t want anyone snooping around because the house is too dark, at least until she can get away.
His brown Buick is in the driveway. She has never driven a car in her life. She’s frustrated with the keys, unable to find the slot. Finally it’s in, the ignition is on and the engine is rumbling. She has only a rough idea of what to do. She knows the brake pedal from the accelerator and knows the gearshift is essential. She deducts the meaning of R and jerks the car down the driveway, focusing on only one thing. The entrance to the freeway to LA is three blocks away.
Once she gets to LA, she abandons the car and searches for a place to live.
Ralph Landon is tired. He’s been at the Red Roof desk for nine hours. Friday nights are hard. Drunks, hookers, junkies.
“Twenty-nine dollars.” Ralph doesn’t look up at the ‘suit’ and his studded babe.
Jack Smoley questions the price, “The room is for my daughter. She’ll be here for...what, honey, a week?”
“Whatever baby.” Manny Dicksener could care less.
“It’s still twenty-nine dollars...per night.”
Connie walks in, exhausted, desperate. She waits her turn as Jack looks her over and asks, “Hey, you just fly in?”
“Huh?” Connie doesn’t realize she’s only a mile from LAX.
“Ya know. Fly, as in airplane.”
Connie is still lost, stating, “I’ve never been in an airplane. It must be exciting.”
Jack thinks he’s being put on. He’s not. Ralph interjects, speaking to Jack, “Do you want the room or not?”
“Yes, yes. Two rooms. One for my daughter and one for...my niece.”
Connie doesn’t get it. She’s still waiting her turn as Jack hands her a key and says warmly, “How ‘bout a little breakfast?” He glances at Manny who urges him with the roll of her eyes to get on with it.
“You’re paying for my room? Why?”
“I’m a recruiter for a large company. We’re always looking for talent. Let’s not call it breakfast. Let’s call it an interview.”
Connie can’t believe her luck. She agrees. Twenty minutes later she climbs into bed thinking, “Well, not such a bad day after all.”
That was in 1997, a year of “work” before she receives the call from Jack Smoley to meet with Brinkley.
Connie walks into Brinkley's office and is dizzied by its rawness. She's a bit anxious. Few of her peers have met Mr. Brinkley. None have been to his office. That makes her proud, though she is not sure why.
There is a white leather couch to the right and two black leather chairs to the left of the stark white reception area. Muzak is playing a string version of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”. She takes a deep breath, thinking, “God, get me through this, ahead for a change.”
She's 5'10" in heels. Her red hair sizzles the air above her. Her eyes are a deeper color now. Green, hungry panther eyes. An apple-shaped woman sits at the reception desk doing a Crisscross puzzle with a felt marker. Connie is impressed. The woman answers, then puts down the phone, coughs and announces, “Mr. William Brinkley will see you now.”
Connie is told Brinkley is a lot to swallow. It is an inadequate warning. She is startled by his overall appearance, and what she sees as a hint of self-destruction seeping from his light grey eyes.
"Hold on a minute, I'm just finishing a movie," Brink is watching something on his iMac 15” display, "Okay, it's over."
"Was it good?" Connie asks, trying to be polite.
"Ah, they all end the same, never a twist." "A mystery?"
"No, a porno.” Brink bites into a Twix bar as Connie seats herself and begins, "So, you’re Connie Watson. Smoley speaks highly of you, recommended you for something, ah, special. We have an opportunity for you. Something that will allow you to put your outcall career to rest. Permanently, I would hope."
Connie's interested. She’s been burning out on different men each night. Absurdly lacking confidence, she bends toward volume in meeting her targets. She speaks assertively, "I'm all ears, Mr. Brinkley."
"No," he says snidely, "you're all pussy.” He chortles aloud.
She starts to rise and says without thinking, "Nobody talks to me like that, fat ass."
Brink doesn't mind being called a fat ass. Fat head? That's a different story. He repents, "Wait, wait. Calm down. Bad humor. Inappropriate. I know." He sounds sincere. Connie sits back down. “This is a serious matter.” He wants to re-arouse her interest.
"Okay. What is it?" she asks, trying to be patient, knowing she could not get away from him if she wanted.
"This is a picture of William Steward.” He draws a photo from his desk of an older, ebony-eyed man studio-posed in a battleship-grey suit. "He's part owner and CEO of a company called Steward Pharmaceuticals. Maybe you've heard of him?"
"No. Does it matter? Does he have a dick?”
"No, it doesn't matter. Yes, I’m sure he has a dick.” His eyes glow again as he shakes his head, popping a handful of Reese’s pieces, adding, "It's actually good you don't know him. Steward prefers a fresh, ah, face. We need his cooperation on a special business deal we’re developing.”
"Okay. So, is there a problem?" Connie is getting her thin shield of confidence back.
"He's refused a very lucrative offer. Totally irrational. He needs the money, but---." Brink pauses, reflecting on his plan before describing it, "We believe his wife, Rosa, is a bit more, let’s say, pragmatic about meeting our needs. She's influenced by her mother and we've done business with her mother in the past."
"You want me to take this guy out? Listen, I'm no saint, but..."
Brink strikes his right fist on the table. Water spills and a plate of peanuts falls to the floor. Connie is taken aback. Brink hates it when people jump to conclusions. He quickly begins to collect himself. And the peanuts. He takes a breath and counts, then says, "I’m not asking you to kill anyone. I'm telling you to simply help set him up, that's all. There is no risk to you. Someone else will do the score." Brink’s voice calms with each word, “I will explain. Steward has already booked Suzie Reynolds---you’ve worked with Suzie before---to go with him and two of his buddies for golf and sex on Thursday. Suzie has been asked to bring along a second girl. That would, of course, be you.”
“After the ninth hole, it will be your mission to lure William into the rear of a secondary clubhouse, an unused private dining room. You’ll simply secure the door and give him a beer. There will be five cans of William’s favorite, Coors Light lined up in the refrigerator. Just be certain he drinks the middle can. Someone else will take it from there. Any questions?"
“What’s in it for me, besides the usual?” “Once the business deal is complete, I’ll need your eyes and ears to monitor the Steward family. You’ll be a mistress or something at the Steward estate. I’ll pay you twenty-percent more than you are averaging now and there will be no sex involved. It’s like a---” Brink is seeking the right words, “---an executive position.”
Connie is trying to digest her good fortune, “Will I still be an image consultant?”
“No, we’re taking you off the books entirely. We’ll help you set up a new corporation, you pay yourself from the profits. That way nothing ties us.”
“Why not let Suzie handle this?” Connie doesn’t know why she keeps asking questions.
Brink fat face swells beyond the possible, reflecting what he believes a look of fatherly pride, "Why wouldn’t I want my best, most trusted, hottest person handle such a vital mission? This isn't a job for a call girl. It's a job for a professional, intelligent, faithful member of my staff."
Connie's flattered. In her work, she’s not often complimented by a man without first promising to take off some part of her clothing. She’s thrilled, "Your staff? You mean, I'd be working under you, on your staff?"
Brink bites his tongue. No sense upsetting her again, responding,"Yes, that's the longterm scenario. Listen, Suzie couldn't pluck your brows. She couldn't come close to becoming an ‘executive’.”
"Does Suzie know what's coming down?" Connie’s head is throbbing.
Brink reaches across the desk and pats her hand, "No, I'm counting on you."
Connie agrees to do the job, then asks, "The middle can could also be called the third can, right?"
Brink smiles warmly and pats her hand again in reassurance, "Now you know why I picked you---for your brains.”
William Steward is a walking contradiction. He loves his wife, Rosa, yet betrays her with other women almost daily. He runs his company with vision and care, but wastes scarce cash on endless, redundant research and development. He champions nonprofit efforts to strengthen DUI laws, yet drinks himself to sleep every night.
It’s 9:00 am on Thursday. William is helping his fifteen year old son, Jonathan, work on his putt in the front yard of their home in Beverly Hills. As he always tends to do, Jonathan is humming an appropriate song, Benatar’s ‘Hit Me with Your Best Shot’. A new 1998 red Lexus pulls up, honking. It's William's friends, Sid Thomas and Steve Winover. Steve shouts out the car window, “Bill, throw your clubs in. Let’s go.”“Dad, can I go with you? I can help with your clubs, find lost balls and---”
“No, son. The people we’re meeting would have a problem with you being there, trust me. Sorry.”
"Have a great time," Rosa yells from the parlor inside the mansion.
William enters the backseat. He needs a day like today, a break in the pressure. He's been wrestling with Bill Brinkley all week, trying to resist his proposal. He thinks about last Sunday’s meeting at the Club.
“You need the money,” Brink prods him again, “You’ll never get another chance like this."
“I just can’t do it. My father built this business from scratch. He entrusted me to run it when he died. He’d spring back from the grave if I sullied it by cooperating with you.” William is resolute.
Brink uses a line from a popular TV quiz show, “Final answer?”
“Final answer,” William replies, his eyes fixed ten inches from the fat man’s massive face.
The course is nearly empty. Suzie is riding in the front cart with Sid and Steve. Connie is riding with William in a second cart. Everyone's been drinking rum and Coke. They ran out of Coke an hour earlier. It doesn’t matter as long as there’s plenty of Captain Morgan. Connie's been massaging William's upper thighs all morning, "I can't wait to be alone with you,” she murmurs in his ear, lightly licking on his lobe, "We don't have to play this entire game first, do we?" She pouts as she teases him with obscure promises.
"I was here yesterday, ya know," she tells him off the edge of the ninth green, "There's a room in the back of that old clubhouse. We could go in there. Wouldn't you be willing to skip the tenth hole? You said you wanted a ‘birdie’?" William likes her. He reaches over to kiss her. She sucks his chin in response.
"Hey Sid, I'm skipping ten and eleven," William announces, “Connie and I are gonna have a little private talk." All three of the men laugh with generic crudeness. Sid says, "Mind if we join ya? Ya know, 'join you!'" Connie worries Brinkley's plan might be foiled by their intrusion. "You guys can do whatever you want," William says, "Connie and I are a matched pair, not a threesome, foursome or five-some." Everyone laughs again. Connie tries to hide her relief.
"See, baby?" she says, pulling him into the room, "Complete solitude, just for us." She turns on one of four light switches, only partially lighting the room, "Can I get ya a beer? There's some Coors Light in here." She grabs the middle and the right can, being certain to hand him the right one, that is, the middle one.
He tips the beer and to her delight downs the entire can in four monstrous gulps, exhaling with the words, "This place is a dining room. Just tables and chairs. What can we do in here?" he says, looking around.
"Well, that’s up to you" she says playfully. Connie is stalling, hoping he will pass out quickly. She raises her skirt and lays back on one of the tables.
"Hmmm. How did you know I like my turkey without dressing?” William tries to gather his thoughts, thinking, “I’m wasted. Shit, I can hardly stand up, much less---”
He stumbles toward her. She closes her eyes, dreading his inevitable cold warmth. She is relieved when she hears the thump of his head hitting the table.
The closet door to her right creaks open. Doc Lovejoy, a tall, lanky, fortyish man steps out, dressed in an olive golf shirt and beige pants. He's holding a satchel in his rubber-gloved hand. He's bearded, craggy, with a dark mole in the center of his forehead.
Lincoln, after the play.
”You're the guy, right? Why'd it take so long for him to pass out?” Connie asks, slightly panicked by the time that has passed. He doesn't answer. Connie repeats herself, loudly, "I said, why'd it take so long?"
He looks around as if he hadn't noticed her until now, "Quiet down, I'm getting ready to kill somebody.” He purses his lipless mouth and relents, "People differ. Weight. Water. It's fine. He's out for a good twenty minutes. More than sufficient." He speaks with the staccato of an old Remington sans the bell, "Here, help me lay him on the floor on his back." Connie grabs William’s left arm and shoulder, straining to hang on to the dead weight.
Lovejoy removes William's right shoe and sock, takes a syringe out of his satchel and spreads William's second and third toes apart. He sticks a needle in and fills the syringe with blood. He takes a tiny piece of gravel out of his bag and rubs it between William’s toes, marring the needle hole, making it appear the stone caused the minor trauma. He puts the gravel in William's sock and puts it back him, careful to align the sock's alligator logo to his ankle. He walks on his knees around the body, stopping with William's head firmly between his thighs.
"He could suddenly convulse. That would be untidy.” He's looking at the opposite side of the room as he talks, seemingly speaking to the coat rack. He opens William's right eyelid. William's dark eyeball looks like a cat-eye marble: it stares into nothingness as the nasty man inserts an extraordinarily thin needle into its center. He angles it slightly to the left, penetrating the Anterior, the Iris, the Pupil, the Lens, and directly through the eyeball via the Hyaloids Canal.
Once he reaches the retinal blood vessels, he slowly pushes the syringe, letting the blood flow into William's brain. A syringe can normally be emptied in three-five seconds. This needle is so thin and the syringe slide so intentionally slow, it takes almost a full minute.
Connie had asked Brinkley, "How's this not going to look like a murder?" Brink explained, "People think the eyes are attached to the brain. Actually, the eyeball is a part of the brain itself. The cornea of the eyeball contains an ever so tiny pinhole. A needle, as thin as an eyelash carefully inserted into that hole will not be detected by the coroner. We've done this before. It's cool."
Doc Lovejoy sits back on his haunches, shudders for a moment, something that overcomes him after every kill and mutters, "That should do it." William's body jerks once. Lovejoy feels for a pulse, first his wrist, then his throat. He checks both again. Nothing.
"How can you do that?" Connie asks, not thinking.
Lovejoy's eyes rotate. He looks startled, then cross, then deadly, his expression changing with each passing moment. He doesn't say or do anything threatening, yet Connie has never felt so threatened. He speaks, "I've been a doctor for twenty years. How long have you been a whore?” He immediately adds, “Never mind, don't answer. You and I are alike. You ruin people. I ruin people." He smiles a caked-up yellow-toothed grin, "Good day."
He walks out the door that leads to the clubhouse side exit. Her final job is to call 911 and report William has collapsed and ‘seems dead’. She reaches for her brick-size cell phone. The rear door rattles.
"Bill! Bill! Ya in there?" It's Sid. The door shakes again. "Come on, there's a big group coming up behind us. We don't want to let them play through. Let's finish."
Connie draws on her limited supply of common sense. In a situation like this, behave the way an innocent person would respond under similar circumstances.
"Oh my God," she shouts, "Oh my God!"
Sid looks at Steve, "Sounds like he's not done yet." Steve laughs. The door flies open. Connie runs out, clipping them and wheezing for air. Sid and Steve look at each other with Steve reacting, "What the fuc...?"
"I think he's dead," Connie cries, hands on her knees, looking down wagging her head, then gazing up at Steve and Sid, "I think he's dead!"
"What?" Steve is frozen in his footsteps. Sid pushes into the room with Steve right behind. They see William on the floor motionless. Sid checks for a heartbeat. Nothing. He listens for a breath. Nothing. Sid's almost in shock when he turns to Steve, "He's gone, man. He's gone."
"What the---" Sid yells out the door to Connie, "Hey you, what's your name. Get in here. What the hell happened?"
"Nothing," Connie says with a certainty that sounds plausible even to her, "I was lying next to him, right there. We were, ya know, touching each other, that's all. His body jerked. Nothing new. Then this." She points at William's body.
Steve is badly shaken, "Shit. Call the cops. 911. We've gotta report this."
"Wait a minute. We're here with two hookers and a dead guy and you want to call the cops?” Sid pleads with Steve, "I don't know about your wife, but mine will fry my nuts. Get the girls out of here, at least."
"All right,” Steve points at Connie, “You! Get out of here. Take the other broad with you. Don't speak to anyone. Got it?” Connie fakes an expression of panic, nods three times and darts out the door. Steve turns to Sid, "We can't explain finding him in this room. The cart's outside. Let's load him on and head toward the next tee. We can stop along the way and call 911.”
Rosa Steward, William Steward's wife and widow is a strong, smart, ruthless lady. Rosa is like anyone though. She has her strengths and weaknesses. For her age, she’s still considered a beautiful brunette, but she’s running out of surgical options. Her second face lift requires frequent Botox treatments, her eyelids are beginning to look oriental, repeated liposuction is making her body ‘lumpy’.
Rosa was born Rosalina Cantano in Detroit in 1958. Her mother, Eileen, considers herself a full-time mother and homemaker. Her father, Romero is a stern, yet passionate man who will do anything to support his family. He often works two jobs: backbreaking work in a steel mill during the day and four hours as a dishwasher at night. His brooding looks and muscular frame combine with his dark eyes and scant use of broken English, resulting in a man people try to avoid. That is fine with Romero. He is a strict father who believes in corporal punishment. Rosa receives harsh spankings whenever she misbehaves. To this day, she cringes at the sound of applause.
Romero is convicted of murder in 1968 when he hits and kills a pedestrian crossing West Grand Boulevard, not far from a home bannered “Hitsville, USA”, soon to become known as “Motown Records”. Rosa is only ten-years old.
The prosecutor is able to convince the judge that Romero has ties to the mob and the pedestrian that is killed is on the Federal Witness Protection program. The death is no accident. They can’t tie Romero to any particular mobster, of course, but they manage to get a confession from him, falsely citing racism as a motive.
A week after Romero is sentenced to Jackson Prison, Eileen receives an envelope. The package contains a note from Romero: “You and Rosalina are my chiarore delle stelle. The man promises this for you. The name in the bank means no thing. I love you and Rosalina. Jesus will save you.”
Enclosed is a bank account passbook in the name of 'Judy Withers’. There is a $10,000 balance. Included are fifty withdrawal slips signed by Judy Withers. The amount columns on the slips are blank. There is also a Social Security card in Judy Withers name and a driver's license with Eileen's picture on it. Eileen cries aloud, “How could you leave me? For this? You fool. You stubborn fool!”
Eileen doesn’t understand why Romero would risk his freedom for a mere $10,000. It isn't until she makes her second withdrawal five weeks later that she discovers an additional $10,000 deposit. Every month from then on, there is another deposit of $10,000. She and Rosa never go without again.Eileen tells Rosa, “Your father was paid to murder a man and to keep his mouth shut.” Rosa pleas, “We have to go see him, let him know we are there for him. We have to try to get him out. Please, Mom, please. Dad needs us.”
“No. We will not see him. He did nothing to be proud of. He was determined to provide for us, but this is too much. I know it broke his soul to do what he did. I never asked him to do it. In fact, I begged him not to. Now we're alone. It is his doing. He does not deserve to see us weep for him.” “Mom, it is not just for him. It is for you. And me. I miss Daddy.” Rosa bursts into tearsand runs to her room. She writes to her father weekly, but soon her ten-year old mind and life leave little to say. Within a few months, she accepts it all and focuses on herself. ****************************
Jackson Prison, Jackson, Michigan holds a wide range of convicted persons. In the early 80s cells are filled daily with young men caught selling ‘dime bags’ of crystalline. All too often, these felons are assigned cells with men serving time for armed robbery, assault, rape, and murder.
Johnny Clinton doesn’t know he is lucky to be sharing a cell with Romero Cantano, a thirteen-year veteran of the prison.
Johnny speaks in a daze, apparently without choice, “You’re in for murder? Man, I can’t handle that. I mean, I’m cool with it as long as you don’t slay me, but, man, you gotta chill out. I mean, I can get you a g-pack to clear you out, forever, man.”
Romero eyes this man-boy sitting in his cell. To him, he sees nothing but a pale, queerlooking punk, like so many of the recent arrivals, ‘slut-masters’ they call them on the inside. Romero worries what kind of world his daughter is facing as a young adult. Johnny becomes the catalyst in Romero decision to speak to the warden seeking support for his coming parole hearing.
Two words from Romero cease Johnny’s rambling, “Fermata perlando.” He wants him to stop speaking. Johnny doesn’t know anything about the Italian language, but he understands just the same. He stops and looks at Romero for the first time. Romero’s vacant eyes send a chill through his body.
It is their last conversation. Two days later, Johnny hands Romero a broken piece of chocolate he scrounged from the cafeteria. Romero hesitates, then accepts it, nodding briefly before turning away in his cot.
Romero is working in the laundry the next morning. Johnny is assigned there as well. Minutes after starting, three convicts surround Johnny and begin pushing him toward the corner closet. Johnny’s is perplexed as he pleads, “Hey guys, what’d I do? Mellow out.”
The sole guard, who may have been there since the prison opened in 1842 is sleeping at his post across the room. Romero knows Johnny is about to be raped. He is not surprised. One of the men slug the boy hard on the side of his head. Johnny topples and half-blacks out. The men bend the boy over a hamper and start pulling off his pants.
Romero tries to ignore it, yet watches out of the corner of his eye. One man is standing in front stuffing a wash rag into the reviving victim’s mouth. Another is grabbing at the boy’s flesh from behind, ready to begin the assault. The third man starts using a butane lighter to sadistically burn a brand into Johnny’s back.
Romero steps toward the third man, gestures to the lighter and says, “Too much.” He turns and walks away. Unexpectedly, Romero is grabbed from behind by his hair and yanked fiercely onto the floor. Two of the three men are on him, pinning his limbs. Something is crammed into his mouth causing him to gag. Romero looks down in shock and horror as the third man pulls out a shiv and pushes it deep into Romero’s stomach. The men proceed to rape him in turn as he slowly bleeds to death, praying with his final breath. He hears Satan’s laughter ringing in his ears.
Rosa and Eileen receive word of Romero’s death the day after Rosa's twenty-third birthday. Eileen goes into shock, unable to walk or speak for days. Rosa sits at her bedside, desperately trying to erase the incessant images of her father’s death leaping in and out of her mind.
The bank deposits stop. Apparently the mob feels it is no longer necessary to provide for them. Eileen raises a question with the prison about the motive for her husband’s murder, but stops, unable to comprehend the possibilities. The day after the funeral, Eileen tells Rosa, “We are moving to California. We need to make every effort to benefit from your father’s life. I resent what he did, but I respect his sacrifice and believe we have an obligation to build the life he dreamed for us. It is time for us to start over. It’s time for you to start, to build a better life. We can do that now that he is...gone.” Eileen starts to weep.
Rosa is startled by her mother’s tenderness, the emotion she has hidden for all these years, “Momma, he’s still with us. I can feel his presence. He loves us so much.” Then it hits her. Her eyes open wide as she half-shouts, “California? We can’t live in California. They are all so different, crazy there. I’m scared.”
Her reaction helps Eileen break from tears to amusement, “Crazy? If so, we’ll fit right in.”
Eileen has been a remarkably astute investor over the years. The bank balance at the time of Romero's death is over $1 million even after withdrawing money each month for living expenses. When Eileen and Rosa arrive in LA, Eileen already has an apartment in Bel Air reserved. She has plans for Rosa, including living among or respectively near the money in Southern California.
Two days after moving into their apartment, Eileen tells Rosa to sign up with several temporary help agencies in the West L.A. and Hollywood areas. Rosa has grown into a lovely brunette: young, intelligent, and personable. Eileen likes the agency idea because Rosa will be exposed to dozens of companies until she finds one with a promising and interested suitor.
Rosa works two to four week stints at seven different companies during the first year. She is often picked as a receptionist due to her looks and charm. She receives many passes from men, but they are all either married or too low on the company ladder to interest her mother. It isn't until she takes an assignment at Steward Pharmaceuticals that Eileen's strategy pays off. It is there that Rosa meets William Steward.
William inherited the business from his father. He took control at age thirty-one and doubled revenues in two years. The Wall Street Journal named him one of America’s top ten promising executives in 1967. His first wife passed away in 1973. William becomes one of LA's most eligible bachelors, photographed with dozens of starlets attending many of Hollywood's luxurious parties. He loves women but never considers any of his romances serious. Then Rosa shows up. By 1981, he is ready to start a family. He falls head over foot in love with her.
"Mother, he's too old. I'm not even twenty-four. He's almost fifty!"
"Forty-seven to be precise," Eileen interrupts, "Rosa, don't you see the positive? He has a family history of coronary heart disease. His father died at fifty-five. He doesn't exercise, except for golf. He eats poorly and drinks to excess every night. Trust me, his days are numbered. His company is valued at $19 million and their expansion plans will double their volume in the next four years. His primary drug is patent protected for seventeen more years. You'll be a wealthy widow by your thirties. You’ll have plenty of time for real romance then."
“Mother, he wants me to bear children!”
"So? Give him one or two. They will be helpful to you when you are my age.” Eileen and Rosa connect through this indirect compliment.
“Mother, I still don’t know.”
William proposes, giving Rosa a ten-carat flawless diamond engagement ring. It’s big enough for Rosa to decide.
After the wedding, William, Rosa and Eileen move to Beverly Hills. William buys a fouracre estate consisting of two homes and a stable. They tear down one of the homes and move into the house that is now the servant quarters while starting construction of a mansion.
Unfortunately, nothing is as sound as Eileen had hoped. After Rosa becomes pregnant, William starts coming home later and later. The tabloids run pictures of him with various women around town, many of them known to be high-priced call girls. Rosa is upset, but eventually accepts it. She doesn't love him, and he is so thrilled to become a father, she knows he won’t leave her. Rosa and Eileen rationalize William’s infidelity. It is a small price to pay.
The company is not without its shortcomings as well. R&D continually eats away at their cash. It is in continual financial difficulty. It doesn’t help that William and Rosa spend far in excess of whatever is left.
Rosa bears William a son, Jonathan. The baby is born happy. Jonathan’s birth story is often related to others, “He came out humming, his head has been filled with music since birth.”
Jonathan is a beautiful baby with dark eyes, a light-olive complexion and the sweetest smile. William and Rosa love him dearly. For the next fifteen years, Jonathan’s mere existence holds the marriage together in spite of William's public womanizing.
Then William has his ‘stroke’.
After his death, Rosa is uncertain she will be allowed to take over the company. With only forty-one percent ownership, she has to persuade at least one other board member to vote with her. She is surprised when one of them comes forward to support her: Steve Winover.
**************************** The day after her appointment as CEO, Rosa receives a request from a long lost collegefriend of William's wanting to stop by and pay his respects. It is Bill Brinkley. For Brink, this is the final step in his commitment to Avery Perelle. It is the most important meeting of his life.
He comes to the house alone and meets with Rosa and Eileen in their parlor. He sets his briefcase on the coffee table. Eileen is afraid he will turn out to be some sort of salesman. She doesn't know the briefcase contains only an envelope and a sophisticated language-scrambling device. And a Poor Boy sandwich. Brink doesn't take chances. He takes the plate of wafers off the coffee table and places it on his lap, bites into one of them, puts five of the remaining nine in his pocket, and passes the plate to Eileen.
Brink starts the conversation by admitting he is not a friend of William, “Actually, I’m a friend of the people who helped Eileen after your father, Romero was imprisoned.” Eileen and Rosa instantly know what he represents.
Eileen nods and pours Brink a cup of tea, "You must pass on our gratitude to your people, Mr. Brinkley, for the support they provided. I'm sure mobsters have feelings too." Her sarcasm slices like a Wilkinson blade.
Brink continues, turning to Rosa, "I'm here with a proposal for you, Ms. Steward. I am CEO of a company that provides, among other goods and services, an import/export network with warehouses, ocean containers and shipping rights all over the world. It's called Hampton US, part of Hampton International. Perhaps you've heard of us."
Rosa disrespectful response is intended to gain control, "I'm still trying to grasp the world of computer systems, drug wholesalers, Medicaid rules and hospital promotion programs. I’ve yet to pay much attention to truckers.”
"Well, then," Brink is amused as he sips his tea, "my proposal will be easy for you to accept. Hampton would like to be your exclusive importer/exporter out of your Pakistan operation. We will guarantee competitive delivery times, insure against all loss and damage, and provide rates that are twenty percent below your best quote."
Rosa smiles and says, "I see. So you are not here to make me an offer I can't refuse.” "I hear that a lot. Am I that obvious?" Rosa is unclear if his response is genuine, sarcastic or threatening. She replies, "Why at
this time, Mr. Brinkley? Why didn't you make your pitch to my husband?" Brink is prepared to lie, "We didn't think about your company and it’s potential until we
read about poor William's death. My condolences, by the way. When my associate read about his
untimely passing, he connected you and your mother. He thought, given our past relationship,"
he nods to Eileen, "there might be some potential for us to work together again." Eileen smiles from one side of her mouth and nods in return. Rosa is astute enough to
know there is something else, something unspoken, saying "Assuming I could make such a
commitment without raising eyebrows around the company," Rosa continues, "why would I?" "A twenty percent reduction is nothing to sneeze at," Brink answers, "It can allow you to
drop your product prices three percent below your competitors. That will help you grow. Your
growth will further help us.” Rosa hesitates, "Well, I’m not sure I want to get involved. We’ll think about it. Thank
you, Mr. Brinkley. Give our best to your goon buddies." "I'm sorry, Ms. Steward," Brink laughs and slaps his knee, "I forgot to mention this." He
opens his briefcase and hands Rosa the envelope. Eileen looks over Rosa’s shoulder as she opens it, recognizing the blue passbook with a
new alias. Rosa opens the book and looks at the balance, stone faced. Eileen nabs it from her
hand, looks at it and utters a gasp. "Look, Mr. Brinkley," Rosa reacts, "we appreciate the offer. This is not an easy request.
Employees on the assembly line, on the docks, people in accounting, our auditors. All of them
are likely to question why we would change suppliers after years of satisfactory service. Frankly,
a million dollars is not nearly enough to raise my interest." "I'm sorry again, Ms. Steward," Brink says, repeating the slap on his knee while
continuing his strange laugh, "Given your mother's experience," he looks apologetically at
Eileen, then back to Rosa, "I thought you understood our, ah, monthly deposit system. We don't
like to transfer too much cash at any one time. I'm sure you can appreciate that." Eileen starts to speak, "Do you mean...?" "Shut up, mother!" "You shut up, bitch!" Rosa sneers and reaches out to shake Brinkley's hand, "We'll talk about it. How do we
reach you?" "Just send me a press release announcing the change, the date and who in your operation
we should work with here and in Pakistan.” He stops and touches Eileen's hand as a goodbye
gesture. "One more thing," he continues as he is sucking raw sugar from his finger, "We'd like you
to hire one of our people, a young lady, perhaps as house manager. Connie Watson is her name.
Lovely person. You'll find her very efficient and resourceful. We’ll take care of her salary. She
will not be spying on the family or reporting to us, except in the event our arrangement is
somehow, shall I say, placed at risk. Surely, given the amount of investment, you can appreciate
this step as an added precaution." While leaving, Brink pauses alone on the porch. He spots something he must have
spilled on his tie during his first lunch. It's a strange color, but it's chewy. Rosa visits with her Chief Operating Officer, Jack Daly the next morning. She has
prepared a list of changes she wants within the company: some organization shifts, revised
policies on travel, an office renovation plan, a new profit report format and, buried within the list,
the use of Hampton for all import/export operations. He asks her a few questions, including why
the switch to Hampton. Her and Eileen had determine that if Daly agrees, they will go ahead. If
not, Rosa will be forced to make a tough decision. She’s not sure she can handle it. “William negotiated a worldwide reduced rate with this company before he passed away.
I’m surprised you didn’t know.” Daly is embarrassed. He is eager to impress his new boss and accepts all the changes
without additional questions. Brink receives the press release from Rosa. Steward Pharmaceuticals' Pakistani import/
export business will be handled exclusively by Hampton effective July 1. Brink is beaming as he
informs Avery Perelle.
The man Avery wants to hire to set-up as his source of supply is Randolph Rasoone. Avery has never met him, but knows everything about him. He is confident he can gain his full commitment.
Randolph Rasoone a.k.a. Ras grew up in a military family. His father was old enough to fight in the infantry in Korea and young enough to die as an Officer in Vietnam. Ras’s memories of his father are vivid,
“You must build strength not just in your arms, but throughout your entire body. We will start with your neck.”
The six-year old boy strains to lift the weights attached to a rope strung around his nape.
“Fifty, forty-nine, forty-eight....” His father never slows down his cadence. It’s up to Ras to catch up, “Twenty-nine, twenty-eight....” His young head is searing in pain, his neck throbbing, he starts to have trouble breathing. He hesitates a moment, then feels his father’s cleated boot stab the back of his left calf muscle.
“Arrggh,” He falls, grabbing his limb, the weights striking his arms and chest. He breaks into a painful cry.
“Get up. Get up. Right now.” His father grabs him by his hair and pulls him to his feet, then places the rope back around his neck, pushes him forward and starts his count, “Fifty, fortynine....”
He remembers his father's last words to him before shipping out: "Your body is your shell casing. The explosive is within you. Strengthen and use your body as an extension of your mind. It is all you will need."
The young boy thinks of nothing else. He works out six hours every day, hating excess flesh, reducing his body fat to 18.5%. He is all muscle. With lean limbs come swiftness and coordination. In college, he is the fastest runner, commander of the bars, regional welter weight boxing champion, swimmer and diver, third degree black belt and swordsman extraordinaire. Job offers abound. Ras' future is set. However, he finds the entire idea of a traditional career unbearable.
He leaves his family one night without a word and goes out into the world and becomes a mercenary soldier, initially recruited in Libya by Muammar al-Gaddafi. He advances in notoriety. By age twenty-seven, he is Gaddafi's top assassin.
In 1983, Ras is recruited by the mujahideen in Afghan to train resistance forces against the Russian invasion. He works with unskilled, under armed rebels, the sons of farmers and craftsmen, creating a mini-Special Forces unit that strikes terror into the heart of the Soviet army. In 1992, he receives a personal medal from Abdul Rashid Dostum, the former leader of the Afghan militia he once trained his unit to defeat (Dostum had switched sides after the Soviets withdrew). Dostum praises Ras as his greatest opponent during the war.
Ras’s reputation and respect among the Afghan rebels is legendary.
In 1998, Ras is sitting in a coffee shop in Jalalahar in the Eastern Province of Nangahar, Afghanistan. An older man wearing Prada sunglasses steps over and sits at his table, uninvited.
Ras looks at him. The man acts confused, trying to decide what to do with his coffee stirrer. Ras isn’t buying it. He spotted him ordering his drink a few minutes earlier. The old fool obviously knew what he was doing. Why the fake now?
“You European or American?” the man asks as he puts the stirrer in his shirt pocket. “American,” Ras returns to his newspaper. “I’m from Canada. We are practically related. My daughter lives in Florida. She has
given me a wonderful gift, a grandson!” Ras tries to be polite, yet always cautious, ever skeptical, “Good.” “Took him to Disney World last month. He loves Mickey. Unbelievable. I’ll never forget
it.” He reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out photos. Three stir sticks clumsily spill onto the table. Ras politely flips through the photos. The child is cute. The last of the four photos is not of the child. It’s a picture of a note reading simply, ‘Avery Perelle’. Ras is one of a handful of nonsyndicate people familiar with the larger-than-life name. He looks up and the man is nodding, saying, “Can I buy you another coffee?”
They take a stroll. Avery walks with a false limp as they talk for two hours. He speaks with assumed dominance, “You will handle procuring the poppy and getting it into Pakistan. The processing plant is nearly in place to transform the poppy into pure-cut heroin. I’m working on an international distribution system. I’ll be ready when you are.” He explains the arrangement with Steward Pharmaceuticals being developed by Brinkley, “The ‘Steward Solution’ as I call it, is simple. The unaware employees at Steward in Pakistan will pack bottles of their main product, Eglitar, into cardboard cases. Each case contains three tiers with thirty-six bottles of Eglitar. each. An ocean container easily accepts four-hundred cases. That’s a lot of product.”
He glances at his Patek watch and flashes it at Ras, “It’s a Patek-Phillipe, the finest watch in the world. Never trust a man wearing a Rolex. It is a false symbol of success. A truly smart man will have the best. That is why I am talking to you.” Avery smiles for the first and last time in their relationship.
Avery pulls Caesar from his pocket and hands him to Ras and continues, “The cases are loaded into Hampton-owned ocean containers and they provide the necessary paperwork. Our driver will stop at my facility en route to the port and the container will be quickly unloaded. Robotic equipment will remove the Eglitar bottles and place them into similar cases already packed with a bottom tier of identical-looking bottles filled with the heroin. The bottles will be coated on the inside to deal with the drug-sniffers.”
“I have similar facilities on the outskirts of New York, Seoul, and London. The cases will again be removed from the Hampton container, peeled away, and the bottles of heroin removed. The Eglitar bottles will be repacked and delivered to various Steward Distribution centers. No one except the CEO of Steward knows what we’re doing.”
“I’m a numbers guy, so bear with me. Each container will yield $864,000. The Stewards ship one hundred-fifty containers a year. That’s almost $130 million a year. I will pay eighteen million to the farmers and tribal leaders, less your take of twelve million, one million in local bribes, twelve million to the Steward CEO, and one million to my processing plant employees. I’m keeping the rest, the syndicates not involved.”
Ras envisions a future under Avery Perelle. He likes the overall concept and the money and is fully confident he can do his part. He states with the type of certainty Avery had hoped for, “When do I start?”
“You’ve already started. Here is a very private phone number. Call me every other morning at 9:00, your time.”
Ras digs in vigorously. It takes two months to secure supply agreements with five Northeastern tribal leaders. He meets with the Taliban ruler of the Khyber agency of FATA and arranges for protection and payments. Many of the payments find their way to Bin Laden training camps. Raw product starts to flow across the border into Pakistan in late June. The Hampton processing and repacking operation starts up without a hitch. Steward Pharmaceuticals begins shipping Eglitar via Hampton ocean containers on July 1. Within weeks, the total system is proven flawless.
Avery calls Ras after the first group of containers leave Steward’s, “I’m impressed. That doesn’t happen often. Tell me once more, how solid are the sources you put together?”
“My deals are assumed by the tribal chiefs to be forever. I have to keep an eye on their positions of power and be prepared to shift if any one of them are threatened. But overall, you should be able to count on the output they are providing now.”
He is right. The operation runs so smooth for so long, it’s odds of discovery by customs decreases with each passing year. At export and at import ports, Hampton containers become routine, expected. A couple of cursory inspections in the early years soon become pointless, then nonexistent.
On September 6, 2001 Ras calls Avery, “I’ve know something valuable that you can use.”
“Talk to me. This phone line is golden.”
Avery listens, hangs up and calls Brink, “Short the market. Put options across all the boards. Spread it, NYSE, Tokyo, London, everywhere.”
“All of it. Execute it by Monday’s close.”
Brink calls back on the 17th, six days after 9/11, “When should I sell the puts. We’re up 7% as of this mornings open.”
“Get started, cover all positions by Friday.” By Friday, the market had dropped 14%. Avery calls Ras, “Your insight was very valuable. You will be rewarded, I promise. Right now, stay active. The US is sending troops in to Afghanistan. Once the dust settles, I want you here, working with me.”
The US invasion disrupts poppy production, raising street prices and resulting in the same profits to everyone involved. Once the US shifts attention to Iraq, Afghan volume is restored.
Avery speaks to Ras, “I need you here.”
Ras is surprised, “When, and for how long.”
“Now, permanently. I’ve got other work to do and as my personal assistant, you can help me on a daily basis. Josh has let me down. He’s no longer with me, so to speak. I need you to take his place. Do you have someone that can keep watch on the operations there?”
“Yeah, I do. I’ll have to come here every few months to---”
“Of course. Set yourself free and get with me in Dubai in ten days. By the way, I’m impressed you haven’t asked if your take on the poppy production will change. It won’t. Does that work for you?”
“Of course. I’ll see you, at Burj Al Arab, I presume.”
Ras enjoys the daily challenge of working directly for Avery. They travel continuously, attending secret meetings with government officials, tribal leaders, rebellion commanders, an occasional close call, an assassination here and there. Ras feels like this is what he was born to do.
Besides, Avery Perelle is the best lover he has ever known.