Date Published: Nov 4, 2021
Publisher: Ewephoric Publishing
Antiquities expert Annalisse Drury and tycoon Alec Zavos revel in a love affair peppered with treasure hunting, grand adventure, and the occasional dead body.
It’s autumn when Alec arranges a getaway from them to visit his mother’s birthplace in Bari, Italy—a no-drama vacation to transfer his car company to a rival. But before they can depart New York, murder makes its familiar reappearance.
Accompanied by detective friend Bill Drake, Annalisse and Alec find themselves embroiled in a behind-closed-doors conspiracy that threatens the reputation and legacy of Alec’s late father—linking him to the Mafia. An ancient rosary propels Annalisse down crooked paths to expose the truth as they uncover answers none of them are prepared for.
EXERPT FROM CHAPTER FIVE
Manetti House, Palermo, Sicily
Leo kicks his dearly departed wife’s crocheted blanket off his feet and wiggles circulation into his seventy-six-year-old limbs. His joints pop and creak like the dry floorboards in the attic. “Ah, relief. I’m not dead yet.” Not soon enough. “Open a window, Carlo. Bring some light in here. I’m smothering in this bara.” In his condition, his voice doesn’t carry like it used to.
They call him the Birdman.
He reaches for a deep breath and draws it halfway. A cough rattles from his croupy lungs and gags him. Getting air is harder today with the tumor growing more each week. He doesn’t smell his food anymore; everything tastes like a stinky dishrag in the sink, so why bother? Doc Rinaldi’s pills might be keeping him alive, but so what? He says Leo’s got lots of time left, but he won’t say how many weeks or months. He wrenches himself up against the pillow stack behind his head and coughs again, leaving a pink stain on his T-shirt and cussing at the development. The pain is a knife plunging into his back. One of these days, the knife will drop for the last time.
“Leo. I’ll help you.” A pair of rough hands fluff and punch the pillows from behind. “How much light do you want? Shade up all the way or just a little? You decide. The screens are off outside. Mario’s washing your windows.”
“Lift them anyway. Shades too. Let me smell the lemons and blood oranges in the grove while I still can. I’ll be in the coffin soon enough with the worms and cockroaches cleaning my bones.”
“Hey, watch what you say.” Carlo blesses himself and kisses the end of his finger. “You’re gonna be good as new. You heard the doc. As soon as your pneumonia clears up—right as Papa’s gold cross around your neck.”
Leo looks at the smoky ceiling above his bed and wonders if he’s giving him the evil eye from his perch in heaven, if he made it there. Maybe he’s celebrating with Satan from below while watching Leo suffer in his bed. When he was alive, did Papa figure out Leo put the hit on him so he could take over the family? How could he have known? They got him from behind in the parking lot after he left the bar with a big Friday-night haul. Customers were gone. No shell casings. No snitches. No problems.
“Bring me a shot. Not the blended either. I want the good stuff for special occasions. I want to feel the burn.”
“You just took a pill. Shouldn’t you—”
“What? Wait a few hours? I could be dead.”
Carlo nods and leaves him to his thoughts.
His ring finger is swollen and red, and it hurts to touch it. As he twists the ring in place, it pulls the skin and stings. The amber stone with the bird inside is laughing at the gold band cutting grooves into the skin. It’s fitting because he cut down the paisan who gave it to him as a sign of friendship. He was such a phony. Stoolies pay a price, especially those brought into the fold from the outside. Loyalty is an oath to the Manettis every day of your life, not just when you feel like it.
He wanted Tony taken out with a bomb in his car, but Mario’s attempts failed to detonate, and Tony found the bomb both times. Mario’s no better at wiring than he is at talking. He’s gotta fix that before he dies. Car bombs are the best: quick and clean. It’s over in a matter of seconds.
Rat on the Manettis and you live in a cell with the rats. Tony ended up in the bug-infested Bari prison full of sickies spreading germs and syphilis to other inmates. No matter. With the help of Leo’s connection working in the infirmary, a meth overdose got him in the end.
He’s the capo mandamento on the commission, and no one disobeys him without paying a price. Tony owed from his heist and bit the big one when he didn’t return the treasure he took from them.
Antonio Giambruno was the Barese they called Tony the Terror because he terrorized the police and kept ’em busy while the organization made deals. A sweet talker from a fishing village in Puglia with a small farm and a couple of moth-eaten plow nags. Leo’s downfall was being a softie. He felt sorry for Tony raising his kid without her mama. His temptation to steal from someone else was too great. That was his downfall. You can’t trust the Barese. They’re sneaky boogers. Still, Leo should’ve listened to Papa. “Stick with a Sicilian—your own kind—and you never go wrong,” he’d said. Had he listened, the Manettis would be richer today. Tony stole something more precious than their accounts. More valuable than what’s in Leo’s strongbox. The holy keepsake he lifted from Carlo’s safe behind the wine keg is as old as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. He who holds the strand holds the key to the stars.
About the Author
Marlene M. Bell is an award-winning writer and acclaimed artist as well as a photographer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living, and Sheep Industry News, to name a few.
Marlene and her husband, Gregg, reside in beautiful East Texas on a wooded ranch with their dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep, a large Maremma guard dog named Tia, along with Hollywood, Leo, and Squeaks, the cats that
believe they rule the household—and do.