Battaglia Mafia Series, Book 4
“Never question my heart, my courage, my loyalty! To my men and to this family I am all things. But to my wife I am only one. Husband.” – Don Giovanni Battaglia.
The year is 1992. The Battaglia family awaits the birth of the newest members to their clan. Twin boys will be born to the capo di tutti capi of the Neapolitan clans. By an African American woman who has married the most powerful and feared Mafia boss in all of southern Italy.
Before the birth Don Giovanni Battaglia makes a decision that shocks the family. He will move his wife out of the Campania to his homeland of Sicilia. Against the advisement of his consigliere and uncle, the family relocates to the beautiful seaside beach town of Mondello. And unbeknownst to the Don the lies and secrets he keeps from his wife are already unraveling as well as his empire. His cousin Lorenzo Battaglia who has suffered a humiliating banishment plots secretly to return. The men of the Camorra, organize against him to take control of a region they feel he has left open to his enemies. And the most powerful Don in Sicily, Marsuvio Mancini, is determined to expose his famiglia tie to Mirabella Battaglia. It is an old Mancini family secret that will bring forth cataclysmic consequences.
And while Giovanni and Mirabella fight to hold onto their marriage, the family bonds that keep them strong begin to crumble. Will the Don realize the true meaning of preserving honesty, love, and faith in his marriage in time? Will Donna Mirabella find the strength to forgive her husband of his lies to keep the family safe from his wrath? And what will become of the others who are caught up in their cyclone of drama?
Villa Mare Blu — 1972
Mondello Beach/Palermo — Sicily
Near Palermo, Sicily crystal blue waters nestled between two mountains washed over the beaches of a seaside town called Mondello. It was indeed a beautiful vacation spot for both Sicilians and tourists, under a Mediterranean sun that bloomed hot and bright in the sky no matter the season. The Battaglia family owned a portion of the beach at the foot of Mt. Gallo with homes called Villa Mare Blu. Many violent and unexpected events occurred during their holiday visits to Sicily. Often these events were centered on who Giovanni’s father was. Most were resolved without alerting the authorities because of the unshakable relationship Don Tomosino Battaglia had with Don Marsuvio Mancini. However, violence came and went without explanation in Giovanni’s young life.
Tonight would be more of the same.
“Svegliati! Wake up boy!” Tomosino bellowed.
The foot of Giovanni’s bed was kicked. Hard. Startled out of his sleep Giovanni sat upright with his hands flat at his sides. He struggled to capture his breath. At times Patri Tomosino’s angry orders dispelled the tranquility in Villa Mare Blu. But those moments were reserved for the adults who followed him. His father’s arrival in Giovanni’s room at the late hour was unsettling. Only recently were Giovanni and his mother released from captivity outside of Chianti. Eve had been banished as punishment for running away with the Don’s only son when he was barely twelve years of age. Rumor had it soon after his mother’s return that she was with child again. A new baby would explain his father’s generosity to bring them out of isolation and back to Sicily.
Giovanni didn’t care what his mother and father’s issues were. He was glad to have returned to this life, his friends, and the family. For him things were back to normal, except for the unexpected nighttime visit.
“See to him!” Tomosino leveled his pointer finger at Giovanni. “He will be your responsibility until your mother wakes.”
“Patri? I don’t underst—” Giovanni began.
Tomosino shoved a little kid forward. The boy looked to be no older than five or six. He was thin, frail, covered in bruises. A dark puffy swell had closed his left eye. The child shivered. Made the center of attention, he bowed his head in fright. He wore no shoes, only a pair of stained, soiled underwear.
“Who is he, Patri?” Lorenzo asked with evident disgust. Giovanni cast his line of vision to the other side of the room. There his cranky cousin, who often slept through most anything, was awake. Apparently Lorenzo could smell the stench off the child, for his nose wrinkled and his brow furrowed with disgust.
Tomosino stared down at the little boy. He seemed perplexed. Didn’t he know the origin from which the boy came? “Tell them your name,” his father said.
Slow and timid a small voice replied. No one in the room could hear what the child had whispered.
“Speak up!” Tomosino barked.
La picoletto lifted his head and turned his chin upward to answer. “My name is… Dominic Antonio Esposito, signor,” he replied.
Giovanni thought he recognized compassion on his father’s face. It was fleeting. After the introduction was had his father gave no further instruction. He turned and walked out. Alone in the room with Giovanni and Lorenzo the little boy wept silently.
“The kid smells like pig shit, Gio,” Lorenzo pinched his nose with one hand and pointed with the other. “Look at him. Did Patri dig him out of the trash?”
“Can’t you see he’s scared?” Giovanni replied. “Stop making fun of the boy.”
Dominic kept his gaze trained on the floor. Giovanni pushed up to his feet. He walked over to the kid, but had to kneel to earn his attention. Lorenzo was right. The boy smelled like he crawled through sewage, or lived in it.
“Ciao, Dominic Esposito. Sono Giovanni.” He touched his chest during the introduction and then pointed to his cousin. “And that there big mouth is Lorenzo. Tutto va bene—everything’s fine.”
The boy nodded he understood.
“Are you hungry?” Giovanni asked.
The kid peeked up at him and his swollen eye nearly opened. “Sí, Giovanni, very much.”
“Oh no! No!” Lorenzo shot to his feet. “Wake your mother, or I’ll wake mine!” Lorenzo huffed. “Have them take him out of here. They can feed him and clean him. I want to go to sleep and the little stinker isn’t climbing in bed with me,” Lorenzo said.
“Christo!” Giovanni shouted.
The last of his patience had expired. He’d shut Lorenzo up if he had to. He and Lorenzo were both the same height and weight. Giovanni had lost a few fights to Lorenzo in the past, but that was before he spent two years in Ireland fist to elbows fighting every dirty bastard who called his mother a whore and him a half-breed. The demand for his cousin’s obedience weighed between them as the silence in the room lengthened. And then he went unchallenged.
“Ignore him. Fresh clothes and a bath is what you need.” Giovanni looked around the room. He walked over to his chest of drawers. In his bottom drawer he found an old pair of shorts and a t-shirt he had been able to wear several years ago. It would be too big for the child but he imagined it could do for the night. He took Dominic’s hand and pulled him along. Silent and obedient Dominic went without complaint. He was a good learner, a good follower.
“How old are you?” Giovanni asked.
Dominic shrugged his small shoulders.
Giovanni stopped. He stared down at the kid. “You don’t know how old you are?”
The boy shook his head no in response.
“You look five or six to me, maybe younger.” Giovanni decided.
Where did his father find this kid, Giovanni wondered? How could he not know his age? Confused and a bit alarmed Giovanni set aside his concern and continued down the dark hall. At the opening to the bathroom he reached in and turned on the light. “You do know how to bathe yourself? Right?” Giovanni ran the water. He proceeded to strip the little boy of his soiled underwear and then tossed the wretched pair into the small trashcan near the toilet. He picked up Dominic who weighed nothing and set him in the water. The dirt on the kid looked to be imbedded into the cells of his skin. After watching the child struggle with a large bar of soap to cleanse himself, Giovanni took control. He had to release the dirty water and run it fresh from the tap to truly get to the business of cleaning him. It took over thirty minutes, and his arms hurt from the scrubbing.
“Look at you,” Lorenzo teased from the bathroom door. “Will you fix him a bottle or give him your tit to suck next?”
Giovanni sighed. He loved Lorenzo. However tonight was not the night for his bullshit. Whenever Patri’s presence or actions stirred them in the middle of night, out came his couin’s bravado. Lorenzo constantly wanted to prove his toughness Giovanni supposed. What Lorenzo failed to understand was that Patri didn’t bring the kid to their room to annoy them. He did it so Giovanni could make the child appear less scared and traumatized before the women saw him. In particular his mother who was known to be sensitive to the violence that followed his father. Cleaning the boy was an important job and his father trusted him to do it.
“Christo! Look at the bathwater,” Lorenzo continued. “I don’t care that you’ve cleaned him, he sleeps on the floor!”
“Go back to bed!” Giovanni threw the sponge at the wall and got to his feet. “Porca miseria! Go before I knock you on your ass!”
He challenged Lorenzo to say another word. After a tense stare off, Lorenzo mumbled a few curses and stalked off. He glanced back and saw terror in the kid’s eyes. The boy had put his back to the wall as if he thought Giovanni would turn his anger on him next. His good eye was stretched so wide it bulged and his breathing looked labored in his skeleton thin chest.
“Are you afraid of me?” Giovanni asked.
The child whimpered. He shut his eyes and began to tremble.
“Don’t be afraid, Domi. Can I call you Domi? That’s a good name for you. Eh?”
Fat tears coursed down Dominic’s chubby cheeks. Even the bruised eye swollen shut appeared to bleed tears. The child’s bottom lip quivered. Giovanni attempted to cheer the kid up with a goofy face. He made two or three of them consecutively, and then he laughed to alleviate the kid’s fear. “I’m not going to hit you, and Lorenzo is a jackass but I’m not going to hit him either. Come here. We’re done with the bath.”
Dominic shook his head no.
Giovanni faced a new problem. If his mother woke and found the scared boy she’d go crazy and his father would surely be enraged. He couldn’t lose control of the situation. Giovanni thought it over for a minute.
“I guess you haven’t had a good slice of pie in a while? Have you?”
“Pie?” Dominic asked. His tiny chest looked caved in from starvation.
“Yes, pie. Do you want some? How about a meat sandwich? We have some of the sweetest goat’s milk. Fresh.”
Dominic nodded. “Sí.”
Dominic pushed off the wall and extended his arms. Giovanni retrieved a large towel and picked the child up. He dried and dressed him. The kid was quite cute when the dirt was scrubbed from him. He had a head full of dark curly hair and round brown eyes ringed in dark lashes. Giovanni decided to carry him out of the bathroom. Quiet, they ventured into the kitchen. And he made good on his promise. They ate. Dominic devoured the pie, the sandwich, the milk, the grapes, and cheese too. He’d never seen a kid so small eat so voraciously.
When he finished Dominic grinned up at Giovanni. “Tante grazie,” Dominic wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
Giovanni leaned forward. “Where is your mama? Your papa?”
The question was greeted with silence.
“Do you know?” Giovanni pressed him.
Dominic didn’t answer.
“Tomorrow mio madre will come for you. Her name is Eve. She is very kind. She will take care of you. But she and the other women, my aunts, will want to know where you came from, who your parents are. Why you have the bruises you have. You are not to tell them. We wait until Patri tells us what to do and what to say. Do you understand? This is very important to remember.”
“I need you to answer me, Domi. You trust me now, right? Say the words.”
“I understand, Gio,” he replied in the meekest voice.
“Good. Now let’s find you a place to sleep.” Giovanni stood.
“Can I stay with you?” Dominic asked alarmed.
The request threw Giovanni. “I have school in the morning. I need my rest. Don’t you want your own bed? We have one just across the hall.” For the past few months his father insisted they live in Mondello because of his business affairs in Palermo with the Mancinis. Both he and Lorenzo attended school. Dominic looked a bit worried. He glanced around the kitchen and then back to Giovanni with his good eye. “Per favore? Can I stay with you?”
“You can sleep with me tonight. How’s that?” Giovanni replied.
The kid nodded his head with eager approval to the offer. For the moment the sleeping arrangement would stand. Giovanni hoped his father would give them instruction soon. Suddenly he cared for the kid and feared for him as well. Whomever beat the boy this way wanted to end his life. Of this Giovanni was sure. He cleaned off the table and took Dominic back into his arms. He carried him to the room he shared with Lorenzo and put him in his bed. Lorenzo watched them but remained silent. As soon as the kid was under the blankets he was asleep. For the remainder of the night Giovanni stared up at the ceiling—lost in thought. Dominic was his responsibility. He would take care of him to the best of his ability. And then a new truth dawned on Giovanni. His father had saved Dominic’s life. That made his father a hero. Giovanni smiled.
A week later
“Why go alone?” Lorenzo asked. “And with him? Do you have a fever in your brain?”
“I can handle it,” Giovanni grunted.
“Take us with you, Gio. The little shit is up to something,” Lorenzo said.
Giovanni walked across the freshly mowed lawn with his books thrown over his shoulder in his bag. Santo kept pace at his right side and Lorenzo to the left. Carlo remained a few paces behind them, his arm thrown over the shoulder of a girl. She looked trapped by Carlo’s advances and walked stiffly with her head bowed. Carlo whispered what Giovanni guessed were obscenities in her ear. Nothing would deter Giovanni from his mission. He and Armando Mancini had a deal and he didn’t need or want the rest of them to know the specifics.
“You sure about this, Gio? You will owe me,” Armando said underneath a snicker. He appeared from nowhere and now walked boldly with Giovanni and his crew. “Or do you need your cousin to hold your hand?”
“Let’s do it,” Giovanni answered. Armando was smug in front of the parochial school because he was Don Mancini’s son. Even Giovanni and his clan had to respect him. But down at the beaches it was neutral territory and war constantly raged between the young teens in both their gangs—privately.
Giovanni went for his bike. He ignored the barb, the questioning glare from his cousin and friends, the little voice in his head that warned caution. Armando and Giovanni were rivals from birth. However, Giovanni made a bargain with a devil for a single favor. And even in his young years as Don Tomosino’s son he understood why the devil was often necessary. He dropped his books in the basket to the front of his bike and hopped on.
“Gio! Wait!” Lorenzo insisted.
Fast as the wind, Giovanni began to pedal away. He glanced back once to see Lorenzo and his friends watching in stunned silence. He had only an hour before Del Stavio closed his jewelry shop. Biking through the small village and along the rocky narrowed cobblestone streets that led into Palermo proved to be a bit of a challenge. He, however, managed the excursion against the tailwind of his nemesis, who had made the trip so many times before. Armando knew of the short avenues to bring them there in thirty minutes as opposed to fifty.
Excited and a bit apprehensive, he set the bike against the store once they arrived. He looked over to Armando who cut him a deceptive smile. Giovanni wasn’t sure if his rival would hold up his part of the deal. He half expected to see Armando’s crew descend on him for a savage beating as punishment for traveling out of Mondello and into their territory. But Armando dropped the kickstand on his bike and went for the door of the jewelry store. Giovanni followed.
“Ciao! Armando and Gio! You’re here!” Del Stavio chuckled. “I am ready for you as promised.” He twisted his long mustache at the ends and then wiped his hands down the front of his apron.
“Can I see it?” Giovanni’s gaze bounced around the jewelry display case.
“Of course!” Del Stavio said grandly. “Armando asked that I do this in a hurry. I have it here.” He walked over to the counter and opened a dark purple velvet cloth. “St. William the patron saint of orphaned children. Here he is.”
Giovanni gazed upon a small ¾ inch sterling medallion with a beautifully crafted portrait of the saint stamped in the center of the medal. The medallion rested on a stainless steel chain. He touched the length and lifted it to the sparse light. The small silver disc gleamed and sparkled as it swayed from a length perfect for a boy or young man. Giovanni couldn’t afford gold from his allowance. But he imagined he couldn’t afford this as well. Del Stavio was the best jeweler and friend to men like his father. However, a custom piece could only be requested by one of the Five Dons of Sicily or their progeny. Thus, Armando had to commission it. After paying his allowance as bounty to Armando, the smug bastard agreed. However, a single favor to be asked at any time for this privilege was now expected of Giovanni.
He cut his eyes over to Armando. He understood the full cost of this sacred piece. And then he remembered the little boy who needed it so desperately. He lowered the medallion on the cloth and nodded. “Mille grazie—thank you very much. It’s what I wanted. I’ll take it, Del Stavio,” Giovanni said.
“Prego! Before I let you accept this, you must tell me if you understand the meaning,” the old jeweler chuckled.
Giovanni nodded. “Of course. St. William was orphaned as a child and raised by strangers who became family, who taught him how to survive.”
“And?” Del Stavio asked. His eyes sparkled under an arched bushy brow.
Armando cut in. He smirked at Giovanni sharing the rest of the tale. “At fifteen St. William decided to dedicate his life to God. He built a monastery on Mount Vergine and performed many miracles. He had only a wolf and staff as his protection. With the hand God dealt him he became stronger, became a man of worth, and a helper to those who needed him. Like little orphan boys with a murdered mommy and daddy.”
Del Stavio’s smile dimmed, but brightened as he tried to make light of what Armando insinuated. “Basta. It is yours, Gio. Take it.”
“Grazie, Del Stavio,” Giovanni said. “Tanto grazie.”
Del Stavio waved off the payment offered to him by Armando. “I know of the boy you will give this to. Go with God’s blessing. I hope it brings la piccoletto peace.”
It was of no surprise to Giovanni that many had heard of Dominic. Tomosino was questioned by the local officials the day after he took the abused boy into his home. All Giovanni and Lorenzo were able to discern was that Dominic’s father was dead. Murdered. They heard their mothers whisper that Dominic’s madre was a poor village girl who spent a tortured existence at the hands of her husband, until her death shortly after giving birth to the little boy. Dominic had been an instrument of abuse from the day he entered the world. But the kid was strong, alive, and now his brother. He would take care of him.
“Grazie!” Giovanni accepted the wrapped gift. “Grazie!”
Once outside he dropped the package in the basket on his bike and climbed on.
“Oooh Gioooo?” Armando sang.
“Not now. I must get home.” Giovanni quipped.
“Now,” Armando said, he stepped before Giovanni and blocked his escape. “The favor I want. I intend to collect next week. Meet me tomorrow after prayer behind the rectory to discuss the details.”
“What is this favor?” Giovanni frowned.
“Not a what—a who?” Armando grinned. The request pinched the last nerve Giovanni had on reserve for tolerance. He hated the smug superiority the cowardly young Mancini wielded from being Don Mancini’s son. But a deal was a deal.
“I hear Tomosino killed that kid’s father you have hidden in Villa Mare Blu. I hear he made the boy watch too. Papa told me that our men had to find what was left of Micheli across the fields of his farm. Do you want to know why he did it? No? Because I assure you it wasn’t for any noble reason you may think.”
In Giovanni’s heart he wanted to believe his father had rescued Dominic. That Patri was a hero. But he believed differently after hearing the whispers of the nuns today in school. Nothing Don Tomosino did was without self-reward.
“Out of my way,” Giovanni said.
Armando snickered. “Meet me tomorrow,” he yelled after him. “We have a deal!”
Giovanni pedaled away, fast. He arrived home much later than he hoped. This time the bike ride took him over an hour and his legs felt as if they were made of jelly when he got off. As soon as he approached the front of the villa he could see Dominic grinning from the top window with his hands and face pressed against the pane. Giovanni waved. Dominic waved back.
His mother greeted him at the door.
“Where have you been? Lorenzo arrived two hours ago,” she asked with a stern look of disapproval. Though his father’s men were powerful, they were in Mancini territory and the Mafioso only tolerated the clans of the Camorra. Danger was a way of life. And Giovanni could easily become a target for ransom if his father fell out of Don Mancini’s graces.
“Sorry, Madre. I had to stop and get something. Is Patri home?”
“No. Inside! Now.”
Giovanni started past his mother but she grabbed his arm and delayed him. “Dominic has been in that window since you left for school. He’s been waiting for your return, Gio. Every time I drag him from the room to eat, bathe, do his lesson, he finds a reason to return.”
This Giovanni already knew. Dominic followed him around the house. He mimicked him at every turn. It irked Lorenzo, but Giovanni accepted it as something the kid needed to do. He didn’t mind.
His mother continued. “I want him baptized. That nasty man who was his father never bothered. You talk to Dominic and explain it to him, what the sacrament means.”
“I’ll go see him,” he said. He turned on is heel and stumbled. Dominic had appeared right behind him. He had to hold on to the boy’s small shoulders to keep from tripping. Dominic grinned up at him. Giovanni chuckled. “Come with me, Domi. I have something for you. That’s why I was late today.”
“Get him cleaned up, he’s been out in the gardens with Zia. Dinner is in another hour,” his mother said. She shook her head causing her long scarlet red hair, held from her face by a blue silk ribbon, to sway about her shoulders as she walked away. He glanced back to see her hand to her stomach and the swell that was very prevalent in the dress she wore. He hadn’t believed the rumor when they said she was pregnant again. But the truth was there for all to see. She grew larger every day. Patri was very excited over the promise of a new child. He doted on Eve. And Giovanni had even seen his mother smile a few times when his father was around. It was progress. They were a family again. Their time in Ireland was done.
Dominic was pulled along by Giovanni’s hand. Giovanni took him to the sitting room and closed the door. “Here, sit here.” He led him to the sofa seat and joined him. He reached in his pocket and removed the tiny box that Del Stavio had given him. He opened it for Dominic.
“This here is the patron saint of orphans. St. William. See here, this is the wolf at his side. The one who protects and helps those that can’t help themselves. This will make you stronger. You wear it, and St. William’s wolf will be there to protect you always. No more nightmares. Okay? Do you understand?”
Dominic nodded. “Sí. No more nightmares, Gio.”
Giovanni put the necklace around Dominic’s tiny neck. “This means we are brothers, Dominic. Always.”
“Always,” Dominic said with a nod. He knew the kid took the commitment seriously. He kind of liked having a little brother of his own to mentor. Dominic stared at the medallion then turned it over. “What does this mean?” he asked of Del Stavio’s insignia.
“The jeweler who made this has been blessed by the Pope. He is the private jeweler to the Five Dons of Sicily. Any man, woman or child who wears this insignia is covered by God’s grace.” Giovanni recanted with a smile.
“God has blessed me?” Dominic asked, and for the first time Giovanni sensed that the boy believed him.
“Sí. No more waiting on me, Dominic, no more worry about tomorrow. You have a family now.”
“Mio famiglia,” Dominic threw his arms around Giovanni’s neck. He hugged the boy and then shoved him off. If Lorenzo caught them embracing he’d tease them both the rest of the night. “Ma-ma is having a baby. She let me touch and I felt it move in her belly.” Dominic smiled. “It will be a girl. That’s what I think,” Dominic grinned wider. “Pretty with red hair like Ma-ma.”
Giovanni’s brows lowered. “Well don’t say that to Patri. He wants a boy I’m sure.” What took Giovanni most by surprise was that Dominic called Eve ‘Ma-ma’. That had to be progress. Giovanni smiled a little. “No matter if it is a boy or a girl you will be a big brother soon, like me. You will have to protect the baby. Can you make this vow to me?”
“Sí. I will.” Dominic nodded. “I will protect the baby always. It will be my baby too.”
“I believe you, Domi,” Giovanni smiled. Despite his ego he embraced the boy again. Silently he vowed to protect Dominic always. “Let’s go find Madre and see what she has on the stove.”
June 16, 1992 — Sorrento, Italy
A shot fired. Like a cannon blast the echo thundered each time Mira pulled the trigger. Birds took flight from the branches of tall trees. Insects were startled into silence and adrenaline pumped through every chamber of her heart. Mira held tight to the weapon, breathing through her nose. She concentrated on the task before her.
“Bravissima! Again.” Giovanni clapped.
Mira raised the gun steady with one hand firm on the trigger and the other on the grip used for support. What Giovanni didn’t acknowledge was the recoil interfered with her aim. She found greater success when she aimed a fraction lower than her intended target. Before her were six cans and two jars lined up. She fired three more times shattering one jar and missing two cans. Giovanni stepped over. He moved his cigar in his jaw, and she frowned when he exhaled smoke that reached around to tickle her nose. She was pregnant for Christ’s sake, and still he wouldn’t let go of his damned cigars.
First his hands went down her hips and next she felt him press into her backside. Not for arousal, though contact this way made her heart flutter faster than the wings of a trapped butterfly. He touched her, oblivious of her excitement, intent on calming her. And then his arms lifted, extended and covered hers. He kept his hands on her wrist to level the direction of the shot.
“I should do it the way I feel comfortable,” she protested. How was she supposed to concentrate this way? Giovanni’s presence almost always had an affect on her.