As a runaway at seventeen, a Las Vegas topless dancer, a magician’s assistant, a high-dollar call girl and eventually the wife of the top enforcer for the Las Vegas Scarpone crime syndicate, Angelica did everything possible to survive. After her husband’s death, she fled back to Georgia fearing for her safety and that of her son.
Now, eleven years later, she is a solid citizen of Poplar Bluffs with a thriving business and a talented son who appears destined for a major university baseball scholarship.
Antonio Scarpone, her husband’s former boss, is facing a federal trial on multiple racketeering indictments. In the face of advancing age, his world is crumbling around him. Amid the wreckage, his greatest obsession is Angelica’s death. Not because of her testimony but he has slipped from sanity into paranoid obsession. He will sacrifice himself and his whole organization to kill one woman before his trial begins.
Angelica’s determination to survive and two men stand between her and Scarpone’s obsession. Detective Mike Eiser, a local cop determined that she will not die on his watch; and Danny Salzano, the first assassin assigned by Scarpone, to whom Angelica has become the last ray of hope after the death of his family.
But, Scarpone is willing to sacrifice himself and everyone around him. Can the three of them stand against Scarpone’s obsession?
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
My books are about people who are victimized in some way; by growing criminal activities, by technology, by changing attitudes toward personal responsibility for one’s actions, by government or corporate actions, by age, by disease or by other factors. The Detective Mike Eiser Series poses the question “What happens when urban crimes common to a large metropolitan area spill into adjacent small towns and change their social environments?” Who are the victims? Who protects them? To what degree can they protect themselves?
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
There are no super-heroes here; no one with extraordinary resources or backgrounds. There are only real people fighting real battles with real limitations and determination in realistic circumstances. Their faith is tried and sometime fails; their courage sometime falters into tears. Sometimes facing enemies together makes new friendships. These are realistic people with realistic problems making realistic choices.
Rand Walter was one of the increasing number of people living in an alternate universe of drugs or alcohol. Rand preferred drugs. He preferred them to alcohol, sex, just about anything.
He hated Mondays. On any given Monday he would be high on anything he could find, and on an especially fateful August Monday evening, he was high as a kite on methamphetamine, driving an ancient El Camino that wasn’t his, and tearing blindly down Karen Avenue in Las Vegas at more than double the speed limit. Flashing in and out of consciousness, Rand’s last thought registered the red blur of a stoplight at Maryland Parkway a tenth of a second before he T-boned a Cadillac DeVille.
Rand Walter would never know that he had just killed Joseph “Big Joey” Vicetti, chief enforcer for Antonio Scarpone, capo di tutti capi in Las Vegas, who was driving home to meet his wife for dinner. It was their tenth anniversary and he knew that she had cooked a special dinner, like she always did. For that, Rand would have been considered a hero by many of the people to whom Big Joey had applied his unique skills over the years; at least, those still alive to tell about it. He would never know that, nor would he ever understand that after killing Big Joey, his own instant death was a blessed gift.
Angelica got the call from the Las Vegas police department at home. The candles on the table, the fine china, and the roast in the oven were for the dinner she planned with her husband. He had been transported to University Medical Center on West Charleston Boulevard. No, they had no information about his condition; she should contact the hospital. The candles, like the roast, were forgotten and left to burn.
Big Joey, it turned out, was dead. Pronounced dead on arrival, he now occupied the University Hospital morgue. Marco Capitano, the Scarpone Consigliore, met Angelica at the hospital, gave her the news, and held her while she cried. He said all the right words, made all the right motions, but Angelica knew that none of it meant anything at all. Marco assured her that he would personally make all the arrangements for the funeral and that the Family would pay all the expenses. It was not what she wanted to hear, but she had attended Family funerals before and knew how it worked with the Scarpones. There was nothing she could say.
Don Antonio Scarpone himself appeared, hugged her, and promised that if there was anything she needed, she should just ask. Family took care of family, after all. She smiled, thanked him graciously, and kissed his hand. She wanted nothing to do with Don Antonio, Marco Capitano, or any other any of the rest of the wise guys and hangers-on who were swarming to the hospital like flies. She wanted nothing more than to leave, to sort out her feelings over a stiff drink in a dive where nobody knew her. She knew she felt something for Joey, confusion and loss right now, but she owed Joey a big debt of gratitude for pulling her out of the dangerous and pointless life of a call girl ten years ago. She knew she had loved him for giving her Jonathan, their five-year-old son. But always a realist, she knew her security with the Scarpones lasted only as long as her relationship with Joey. She did not kid herself that there was any love lost between her and the rest of the Scarpones, or that Don Antonio considered her any more than another call girl he could use to maintain appearances. The upcoming funeral would be an ordeal from Hell…an exercise in excess just to keep up those appearances. Worse, she understood that Joey held a position of trust in the Scarpone organization, and even though he never brought his business home, she understood that the Scarpones would be convinced she knew more about their business than she actually did. In one sense, she did, and that, in the end, could decide her fate if the old man forced the issue.
Her son Jonathan would give the Scarpones a way to control her. She had no time to grieve. Before Joey’s body was cold, she needed to plan an escape for her and Jonathan. Tonight wasn’t too soon to start. Right now, though, she needed that drink.
However, the drink had to wait. Angelica knocked on her neighbor’s door and waited, tapping her toe on the step until her neighbor came to the door. Isabella Gomez had been a good neighbor to her for years, watching Jonathan when she needed help and running errands for her when she couldn’t do them herself. Isabella opened the door and invited Angelica in.
“Sleeping like an angel,” she said of Jonathan, who was sound asleep on the living room couch. “Angelica, I was so sorry to hear about Joey. When you called me to go get Jonathan…I just couldn’t believe it! It must have been a terrible accident.”
“It was, Izzy. I can’t really think about it yet. You know, get my head around it.”
“I am always here for you to help with Jonathan. Please let me know about the funeral.”
“I will, Izzy. Once again, thank you for everything.” She bundled Jonathan in a blanket and carried him to the door. A thought struck her. “I may need your help during the funeral, if you don’t mind. I’ll have to let you know later.”
“Of course, anything. You let me know, okay?”
“Yeah, good night, Izzy.”
Arriving home, Angelica put Jonathan to bed, then poured herself a stiff drink and looked at her watch. Nine o’clock. It would be eleven o’clock in Austin, Texas, and her sister Colleen would just be getting ready for bed. She dialed Colleen’s number.
“Hello?” Colleen answered.
“Hello, Sis…” Angelica paused and sobbed.
“Oh, my God. Angelica! Tom, it’s Angelica! What’s happened? I only hear from you when something’s wrong. Is it Jonathan?”
“Th…there…was an accident tonight.”
“Oh, shit! Is Jonathan okay?”
“Yeah, he…he’s fine. Joey’s dead.”
“Oh, Angelica! I’m so sorry! Oh, my God! How can I help you? I’ll come right out.”
“Yeah, it’s going to be hard without Joey. It really hasn’t hit me yet. So I don’t really know what’s happening yet, I mean, with the funeral and all.”
“Oh, you poor thing, what can I do?”
“I need you to help me with Jonathan.”
“Sure. You mean come out and keep him during the funeral?”
“No, Colleen, it’s not that simple. Joey was into some things with some people…I really can’t explain it, but I need for you to pick up Jonathan during the funeral and take him back to Austin to live with you. Are you willing to do that for me?”
“Certainly. Why pick him up during the funeral? Where…your house?”
“No, you can’t be seen with me. Joey’s friends don’t know about you. There’s a playground Jonathan likes, Mirabelli Park. I’ll give you the directions when I call with the time of the funeral. I’ll ask someone to take him to Mirabelli Park and leave him at the playground when the funeral starts. Please be there to pick him up!”
“Why can’t they just meet us with him at a restaurant or somewhere?”
“She could, but you’re both safer if you don’t know anything about each other.”
“I don’t like this.”
“Colleen, I don’t like it either. I know it’s weird, and you can call me paranoid all you want later, but this is the way it has to be now. I can’t tell you any more…you’ll have to trust me.”
“It’s a twenty-hour drive from Austin to Las Vegas, twenty-four with rest or two long days with an overnight.”
“I’ll do what I can to make the funeral as late as possible, but you will need to leave tomorrow.”
“I think we can do that. Tom is taking a break between jobs for a few days; he can help me drive.”
“Good, thank you, Colleen! I owe you big time.”
The wake was Wednesday, the funeral, Thursday. To their credit, the Scarpones left her alone except that Marco called daily to see if she needed anything. True to his word, Marco also made all the arrangements with all the frills and glamour of a high-profile dignitary’s funeral. Angelica quietly packed her clothes and her important papers, and stashed them in the trunk of her aging Cadillac. She packed Jonathan a backpack with a change of clothes, extra underwear, and his toothbrush. The rest of his clothes, toiletries, and favorite toys went into a couple of large boxes she took to the UPS terminal and shipped to her sister’s address in Austin.
Then she went next door to see Isabella. After confirming that Isabella still wanted to help her, she said, “Izzy, the wake is Wednesday, the funeral is Thursday, but if you really want to help me, you can keep Jonathan during the wake and take him to the Mirabelli Park playground during the funeral. Someone will pick him up, but both you and they are safer if you aren’t seen together.”
“Sure, if that is what you want.” Isabella looked at her questioningly. “It’s dangerous to just leave him there.”
“It’s okay, someone will be watching him. I can’t explain any farther, you’ll need to trust me.”
“No problem. I’ll do it.”
“Thank you, Izzy. You’re a great friend.”
As predicted, the wake was a celebration of a respected Family member’s life. No one, of course, eulogized his skills as an enforcer and hit-man, and no one elaborated on the string of corpses he had left scattered throughout the desert. Instead, they ground on endlessly about his loyalty to his friends and his family and most particularly to Don Antonio Scarpone. Angelica became adept at dabbing her eyes with a wet hankie that kept them moist while stifling a yawn. As long as no one noticed the hankie was more than barely moist, no one was the wiser. She even tolerated the ride Marco offered her to and from the wake with gracious polite conversation and a thank you. She knew she had to suffer through a second ride from Marco to and from the funeral tomorrow, and she needed it to be a smooth one.
Kicking off her heels, she called her sister’s cell phone to give her directions and the address for Mirabelli Park, and to let her know what time Isabella would drop Jonathan off. She also told her that Jonathan had clothes and underwear with him, and the rest of his stuff had been shipped by UPS to her house in Austin.
“So what are you going to do, Sis?” asked Colleen. “You’ve made all these arrangements for Jonathan, what about you?”
“My car is packed with my stuff. When Marco drops me off after the funeral, I’m going to get in the car and drive east. I don’t care where I wind up; just somewhere far away from here. When things have settled down, I’ll call and come get Jonathan. For now, things are, well, screwed up!”
“What about the house?”
“Joey had wanted a bigger house, so it’s already listed with a real estate agent. It’s community property, so I can sell it on my own.”
“What about his estate?”
“What estate? Joey lived on cash. What he had in his wallet was what he had.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll take care of Jonathan.”
Early the morning of the funeral, Izzy knocked on Angelica’s door. Jonathan, decked out in new clothes, opened the door.
“Hey, ¡lo que un hombre guapo! ¡Muy guapo! Are you ready to go, señor?” Jonathan nodded and shoved the door wider to let her in as Angelica came into the room, fastening an earring.
“Hi, Izzy. Are you ready for today?”
Izzy smiled at her. “My part is easy. Are you ready is the question.”
Angelica blinked her red eyes, dabbing at the corner of one with a tissue. “I think so. I’ve talked to Jonathan and he knows what’s happening and what to do. I think we’re ready.”
“I’d feel better knowing who was going to pick him up.”
“It’s okay, Izzy. Jonathan knows, and the others know…everything’s fine.”
“Then we will go. I’ll take him to get his favorite hotdog for lunch to say goodbye.”
“Sounds, good, Izzy. Thank you…for everything,” said Angelica with tears rolling down her face.
“I will miss you, mi amiga,” answered a teary Isabella. Looking at Jonathan she said, “Are you ready to ready to go, Señor Vicetti?” Jonathan nodded and picked up his backpack.
It was quiet in Marco’s car on the way to the funeral. True to Angelica’s suspicions, Marco asked after Jonathan. When she told him she had left him to stay with a girlfriend, he didn’t pry anymore.
After lunch at the Hotdog Junction, Izzy pulled up in front of the Mirabella Park. “Okay, Jonathan, we’re here. Do you know what to do?”
“Yes,” Jonathan said.
Izzy hugged him hard. “Please take care of yourself and your mother, Jonathan. I’ll miss both of you,” she said with tears in her eyes.
“I’ll miss you, Izzy. You’re the best babysitter ever,” Jonathan said in a small voice. He opened the door and ran across the playground. Izzy watched him a moment while he ran one complete circuit of the playground and then out the other side to where a man and a woman sat on a park bench. Even though it was a long ways away from her car, when Isabella saw the woman, she understood what Angelica was doing.
After the funeral, Marco dropped Angelica off at her house as she expected. Once again, it was quiet in the car except for the obligatory “Call if I can help you in any way” crap. She knew from talking to other widows in past years that she would likely never hear from Marco or any of the rest of the Scarpones again unless she was to be eliminated. She didn’t intend to sit still and wait for that. As soon as Marco’s Mercedes rounded the corner, she got in her car, backed out of the driveway, and headed toward Arizona to catch I-40 East.
Fourteen hours later, she paid cash for a motel room in Amarillo, Texas, falling instantly asleep. The next day she drove fourteen more hours, took another cash motel in Memphis…a switch to I-55 to Birmingham, to I-20 toward Atlanta…another cash motel in Oxford, Alabama.
The fourth day she relaxed in Oxford, Alabama, sleeping most of the day. That night, she set out again, driving through Atlanta and east toward Augusta, eventually turning left onto US-44 looking for her roots.
Angelica was running for her life. Angelica Cassidy Vicetti had started life in a rundown, doublewide house trailer in the edge of the north Georgia mountains. Her mother died in a car accident when she was little. She grew up with her drunken, abusive father until a rival killed him in a bar fight when she was sixteen. After that, Angelica had been many things in her short life: a topless dancer, a call girl, even a magician’s assistant in a Las Vegas magic show. Freaked out by a rehearsal accident, she had left the act and returned to life as a call girl when Joseph “Big Joey” Vicetti found her on a couch, dead drunk at one of Scarpone’s lavish parties. Joey took pity on her, sobered her up, and eventually married her with all the speed, pomp and circumstance of typical Las Vegas weddings. Big Joey Vicetti was an enforcer for Antonio Scarpone, capo di tutti capi in Las Vegas. Joey needed respectability and flash. Angelica was a drop-dead gorgeous blonde that cleaned up very well indeed. She had a body that turned heads no matter whose table she was dancing on at the time. She needed stability, and while Joey wasn’t the most stable of men, he was better than anyone she’d ever known. Joey never knew the things she had done as a call girl, just as she never knew the things Joey did for Don Antonio. Angelica knew that she knew things about Don Antonio that Don Antonio could never afford to have known, so despite Don Scarpone’s assurances, she felt that she and her son were only loose ends for him. Never a fool, she had watched Las Vegas become a cloud of dust in her rearview mirror.
Angelica gripped the steering wheel of her aging Cadillac and screamed as loud and as long as she had breath to scream. The Cadillac was rolling to a dead stop at the side of the road and there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. The car had finally given up the ghost, and something deep inside her told her it was no use continuing to nurse it onwards. It was falling apart, having been beaten to death by her late husband much as he had beaten many of his victims. It had brought her all the way from Las Vegas to northeastern Georgia before it died.
Rest in peace…or in pieces, she thought. Whatever.
Looking around her, she saw the first streaks of dawn gracing the hills, deepening the shadows of the gullies and valleys.
Welcome home,” she muttered grimly as she considered walking into town. Her dress and high heels weren’t walking attire in anyone’s mind, and they would draw attention as soon as anyone saw her. She gathered her coat from the back seat and wrapped it around her, as much to hide as to protect her from the early morning chill, locked the car, and set out, Big Joey nothing but a memory. Her heels clicked loudly on the pavement as she headed into her future.
She hadn’t gone far when she heard a car approaching up the road behind her. She walked farther to the side of the road and heard the car slow to a crawl and stop. A second later, blue lights flashed.
Crap! The cops, she thought…and turned around to stare into the smiling face of Sergeant Glenn Glassman.
“Good morning, Ma’am. Welcome to Poplar Bluffs.”
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