Sicily 1895 AD
Giuseppe lounged in a cushioned chair and sipped wine thoughtfully in the late autumn sun. Servants in white smocks and wide brimmed hats toiled in the vineyard below. Someone, one of his grandchildren no doubt, cranked a subtle aria filtered through the speaker of a Victrola s omewhere in the villa behind him. Giuseppe did not care for these Victrola. Music, like the birds that made it, should not be captured, it should be experienced in the moment.
“Arnoldo cannot be bought. We hurt his pride greatly.” Carmine said, lounging in an identical chair to his left. “We have no fear from the courts, but the papers are becoming more difficult to buy off. If we kill him, people will talk. It could be bad for business”
“Perhaps we made a misstep by not bringing him into the family. Still, there is another way to solve our problem.”
“What do you suggest Don Giuseppe? Carmine asked.
From their vantage point on the terrace behind the villa, the old men could see the entirety of the estate: the vineyards, lake, the servant’s quarters and stables.
The music stopped for a moment and Giuseppe paused to take pleasure in the silence. But his respite was all to brief, and a new aria, composed by an audacious French upstart, spun on a Victrola once more. Giuseppe didn’t care for the liberties these new composers were taking with the form. Opera was performed perfectly 100 years ago. It didn’t need expanded upon, but his daughters adored them.
“He’s real?” Carmine asked, surprised. “Your father told us stories of him when we were children. I thought he was a myth.”
“He’s real enough old friend,” Giuseppe sipped his wine. “What do you remember about him?”
Carmine leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment.
“Your Father told us the family only used him at great need, not when we needed to send a message, but when someone needed to disappear completely,” Carmine said. “But we were children when Don Armando told us those stories! It must have been 60 years ago now at least! Surely Signore Infinito is dead by now.”
“He’s still alive, and if I call on him, he will answer.”
In the vineyard below Giuseppe noticed his foreman’s daughter; he believed her name was Christiana; plucking grapes with the rest of the workers. She had blossomed into her womanhood nicely. Sweat caused her loose white blouse to cling to her enticingly.
Perhaps I will call for her this evening, he thought.
“I’ve only called on him twice since the old jackal died,” Giuseppe continued. “Only in times so bad I’m ashamed to say I feared to trust even you.”
“I had no idea, Don Giuseppe.”
“We were younger men, then. Full of ambition. You’ve proven yourself faithful a thousand times since. I would never doubt you again.”
“Then I will make the arrangements?” his consiglieri said. “How do I send for him?”
“You needn’t worry yourself, Carmine,” Giuseppe said. “I will take care of it myself. Tomorrow. That is enough business for now. Tell me, my friend, how is your son in America?”
Carmine’s leathered face brightened.
“Wonderful!” he said. “He has found himself a young lady, they wish to be married in the spring!”
“She is Italian, I hope?”
The old men sat in the early autumn sun, watched the laborers toil below them, and talked as old men do, of their children and old battles, and left tomorrow’s tasks for then.
Upstate New York 1922
Eddie Grable sat behind the wheel of a borrowed Ford, humming Louis Armstrong and doing his best to ignore the sounds of nighttime in the woods.
The woods gave Eddie the creeps. He much preferred the solid pavement and semi-reliable streetlights of Brooklyn to the soggy roads and fickle moonlight of upstate New York. But Don Vito had given Eddie this job personally, and he’d be damned before he angered the man newspapers called, “The Baron of Brooklyn.”
Still, it wasn’t just the crescent moon and backwoods roads that put Eddie on edge. It was everything about this job. His meeting with Don Vito replayed in his head:
“You pick the guy up at 32nd and Lincoln,” Don Vito had said. “You go where he tells you, and you stay in the car, you understand? When he’s done, you drive him back to the city and you never speak of it to anyone. Not your priest, not your mother, not St. Peter at the Pearly Fucking Gates. You got that?”
“Who is this guy, Don Vito?” Eddie had asked.
“That’s not your concern, kid. Just drive. When you get back to the city, I’ll have Charlie put you to work on one of his crews,” The Don looked at him hard. “As long as you know how to keep your trap fucking shut.”
In the distance Eddie heard the howl of a wolf… or maybe a coyote, were there coyotes in Upstate New York? Either way he didn’t like it.
Eddie tried humming louder, then lost the tune.
After three minutes of silence the young man began to feel crushingly, claustrophobically, alone.
In the city one was never truly by themselves. Even in the privacy of his studio apartment, Eddie was never more than a paper-thin wall away from Mrs. Costanzia or one of the Calabasas twins.
With only a pane of glass muffling the sounds of the wilderness, Eddie realized he was not afraid of the muddy back roads or the wolf/coyotes hidden amongst the trees or even the unreliable moonlight. Eddie was afraid to be alone.
He laughed at the realization, but it brought him no relief. Recognizing one’s fears rarely cures them.
He checked his watch. The Man had been gone for 10 minutes.
Eddie had showed up at the corner of 32nd and Lincoln at 10 p.m. just like Don Vito instructed. Waiting was a tall gaunt figure with a black case. His hand found the handle to the rear passenger door the same moment the Ford rolled to a stop.
“Hi, I’m Eddie Grable,” he had said as The Man climbed into the backseat, resting the case, a battered violin case, between his knees.
The Man had said nothing but handed Eddie a scrap of paper.
“We’re leaving the city huh? No problem! We’ve got ourselves a full tank of gas and water in the radiator. I’ll have you there in no time.”
Again, the man had said nothing, so Eddie shrugged and merged into traffic. Eddie had found nothing remarkable about his passenger, beyond being on the tall side. His face was clean shaven, and his suit was grey. And he said nothing as they left the city. Eddie wondered if his passenger were mute until he missed a turn.
“That was the road,” The Man said. His voice like gravel, and unused.
Eddie nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Uh, sorry about that. Not used to these country roads, born and raised in Brooklyn. I’ll get us back on track.”
The only other thing the man had said was, “Wait here,” as the vehicle came to a halt at the bottom of a secluded drive flanked by thick underbrush.
Ten minutes later Eddie couldn’t even see the house from where he waited, growing more agitated by the second.
He found The Man’s silence disconcerting, but sitting alone in the dark, Eddie would have welcomed the company anyway.
A nightingale called out forlornly and he shivered. He had been waiting for 15 minutes and realized since he had no idea why he’d driven The Man to this secluded address he had no idea how much longer he would be alone. The thought made him shudder again.
After 20 minutes Eddie was shaking. At 30 he began to mutter, “He must be coming back. He must be coming back, coming back…”
Eddie was terrified and he hated himself for it. He felt like a child, afraid of the dark. He fished under his seat and found the revolver where he’d stashed it, its warm wooden grip eased the young man’s tension slightly.
His brother, Eric, brought the pistol home from the war four years earlier, and put it in his own mouth a year after that.
At the funeral, the priest told his mother Eric was the fifth soldier he’d buried that month. Eddie’s mother worried about her eldest son’s soul.
“Father McInerny, you’ve taught that those who take their own lives are damned,” She had said clutching at the man’s robes.
“That is true,” he said, his eyes full of sympathy. “But it was the Germans that killed your Eric, his body just hadn’t figured that out yet. His soul is safe.”
After the funeral, the revolver, and the rest of Eric’s possessions, became Eddie’s.
He hadn’t been old enough to serve in the big one, and jobs were hard to find for a non-veteran, so he started working for Don Vito.
After 40 minutes Eddie decided he couldn’t sit in the car for another minute.
“To hell with Vito,” he said to the darkness.
He swung the door open, stood in the muddy road, and with a shaking hand tucked the revolver into the back of his trousers. Then with a deep breath he started up the drive.
The way was steep, flanked by trees. Eddie’s shiny leather shoes stuck in the mud, he nearly fell twice before he made it to the top of the drive, where he was greeted by what, under normal circumstances, he would have considered an idyllic cottage. Its roof slanted sharply and smoke billowed from a stovepipe chimney.
Eddie failed to appreciate the little house’s charms, but he headed towards it, grateful for any symbol of civilization in the wilderness.
It was only when he reached the porch steps that Eddie realized he had no kind of plan. He couldn’t very well saunter in the front door. The fear that prompted him to leave his vehicle now shifted focus from the vast unknown wilderness to Don Vito’s wrath.
“Stay in the car,” he’d said, and Don Vito was not the type of man you disobeyed.
For a moment Eddie considered returning to the ford, but a quick glance at the dark forest drive dissuaded such thoughts. Shameful as it might be, Eddie’s existential fear of being alone in the woods outweighed his practical fear of Don Vito. He could not return to the car.
Instead he retrieved the revolver from the waistband of his trousers and began circling the cottage, peering through each window as he went.
The first revealed a small living room with simple, well-made furniture and a cast-iron stove, its door agape. Embers glowing orange within. Whoever tended the fire must have been interrupted, Eddie realized.
The windows along the left side of the house revealed a tiny, empty kitchen, and an empty bedroom, but no clues as to where The Man had gone.
Rounding the corner to the rear of the cottage, Eddie saw multi-colored light emanating from the window on the far side of the structure. He crept towards the glow as stealthily as he could manage on the muddy ground. He did this reflexively instead of out of a sense of caution, his fear replaced by overwhelming curiosity. The light, swirling and flickering from blue to pink and every color in between, beckoned him forward.
In the few steps it took to reach the window, Eddie’s curiosity developed into fascination and without a thought to stealth he peered through the window.
He saw a small bedroom, sparsely decorated. A wardrobe stood against the wall opposite Eddie, next to the door. A bed, covered in a floral-patterned comforter, took up most of the room, but Eddie barely registered this. The Man stood stock still with his back to the window. Another man, short with a pencil mustache and wire rimmed glasses stood in the doorway, his mouth agape in disbelief. Eddie paid no mind to either man.
His attention was completely absorbed by the violin case, which lay on the floor at the foot of the bed, open towards the man in glasses. Light emanated from the case, bathing the walls in swirling, ever changing patterns. Eddie found the light hypnotic, though from his vantage point the case’s lid blocked the source of the glow.
Later he could not remember how long he stood peering through the window, but after a time Eddie realized the man in the wire rimmed glasses had left his place in the doorway and taken several steps toward the case. His lenses reflected pink and violet and orange but revealed nothing of the case’s mysterious contents. If he’d glanced up from the case for even a moment, he would have seen Eddie’s awe-struck face in the window, but Eddie knew he wouldn’t.
The Man remained stock-still.
After what could have been seconds or hours, the bespectacled man took a final step forward. He gazed down into it with wonder. Eddie saw a brief flash of recognition in the man’s eyes. The light from the case flashed white, and the bespectacled man was gone.
For a few more seconds the light continued to whirl across the walls of the bedroom. It called to Eddie, beckoned him to see the wonders inside. Unconsciously he raised a fist to smash the window.
Then The Man stepped forward and closed the case, plunging the world into darkness.
Released from the case’s spell, Eddie ducked under the window and panicked. With no frame of reference for what he’d witnessed, Eddie’s mind began to reject the sensory input it had just received.
Was I really about to punch a window?
Eddie could hear The Man shuffling around inside probably heading for the door, so he crept back around the side of the house doing his best to forget what he’d seen.
People don’t vanish and violin cases don’t glow, he told himself. And Don Vito told you to stay in the car. You should probably get back there before He does.
Eddie fled back down the drive, miraculously not falling or losing a loafer in the mud. Suddenly loneliness seemed like the silliest fear in the world. He’d spent hours winding through dark back roads to bring The Man to this cursed place, and it would take hours on those same dark roads to return him to the city. Loneliness didn’t seem very scary at all.
Sliding behind the wheel Eddie briefly considered leaving The Man behind, but realized he couldn’t afford to anger Don Vito, or more to the point, his passenger. So Eddie returned his revolver to its hiding place beneath his seat and waited shaking.
He didn’t have to wait long. The Man made his way down the drive in the moonlight with measured, unhurried steps. He re-entered the back seat and once again placed the violin case between his knees.
“Take me back to the city.”
Eddie didn’t speak. He didn’t say a word the entire drive back to Brooklyn.