With a last name like Luciani, you would think I would have all the inside dope (oops) on a subject like the Mafia. However, strange as it may seem, I’ve learned about that organization mostly from books and the movies. With e-commerce gaining in popularity, it would not be too far-fetched to believe organized crime would find that avenue both intriguing and a new area of possible expansion.
Gino Leoncore considered himself a salesman. In fact, he contended to be numero uno in sales in all of New Jersey. Patterson was his home town and home base, but he was also big in Jersey City. He regularly travelled back and forth between the two, with the occasional side trip to New York to pick up merchandise. Salvatore (Sal), his brother, was also his right-hand man. He handled the day-to-day distribution of product while Gino was the brains. Sister Antonia, just graduated from the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morrison, was the company bookkeeper. All of this, of course, came about with the financial start-up help of his father, Don Leoncore. Lately, their independent business was flourishing.
Gino’s uncle, Giacomo, was an important part of the business. He owned the Tri-State Transport Company. Ninety percent of all high-tech consumer products were shipped to New York by Tri-State for distribution all over North America. Because of this terrific volume, it was inevitable that the occasional shipment would be lost or hijacked. And since the roads approaching New York were rife with potholes, the bouncing merchandise could even be lost by falling off a truck. Well, it could happen.
In the last couple of years, an amazing number of Apple iMac computers met this fate. As time passed, the number of iMacs lost increased in direct proportion to the popularity of the new colours that became available. Inventory for the new business was always lean, as the iMacs found their way quickly into willing hands. Indeed, the prices were lower than the cheap, no panache, PC beige boxes. Perhaps the most interesting fact was that none of the colourful computers sustained or showed any indication of damage.
Gino was fascinated by the Internet. The net had grown more quickly than his small enterprise. He immediately began plans to consolidate the two. His first step was to launch a website. It was simple and direct in format with little graphic embellishment. His message was also simple. If you wanted a computer cheap, stylish and quick, then log onto slightlyusedmac.com. Orders were processed by Sal the same day and shipped direct via (what else?) Tri-State Transport. Each machine included the original warranty, so the lure of a low-priced Mac computer was hard to resist.
Life for Gino in Patterson was good. It was at about this time that he met RoseAnna, and Gino’s world would never be the same. RoseAnna Giancanni was a native of Jersey City. She loved the city of her birth and bristled when she read or heard disparaging comments about it. Most people saw it as a dreary, smog- covered, no man’s land of smoke stacks and industrial pollution. RoseAnna, however, savoured the small parks, neighbourhood camaraderie and warmth of the people. Sure,they were poor, but they had as much dignity as the Kennedys. RoseAnna had been best friends with Antonia at St. Elizabeth’s. Both had majored in Economics and Law. RoseAnna had promised to visit Patterson in late summer. When she called in September, she excitedly informed her friend that she would come for part of the Labour Day weekend. She had great news to tell her.
She arrived on Sunday afternoon, her third-hand Ford Pinto sputtering with an occasional backfire. She pulled into the driveway, carefully checking the number. To her surprise, the large, middle class residence was not what she had expected. It was much larger than she had envisioned. As she stepped out of her car, the large, ornate water fountain in the front yard suddenly began to spurt jets of water into the air. Antonia rushed out of the front door and down the wide stone steps to greet her. They hugged and giggled as they walked towards the house.
“You must excuse Papa showing off,” she said with a nod of her head in the direction of the fountain. “He only turns it on when we have company.”
“I was impressed,” lied RoseAnna with a weak laugh.
“You would have been more impressed if we didn’t have to squeeze the driveway to fit it in,” replied Antonia sarcastically. “Papa has never lost his Sicilian mentality.
“Hey, don’t forget I may have been born in Jersey City, but I have some of that Sicilian mentality, too,” RoseAnna chuckled and added, “if you dig down deep enough.”
Inside, the house was like a villa transplanted from the outskirts of Caltanissetta. The floors gleamed with marble and there were fluted columns strategically placed, not necessarily for structural purposes. The furniture was highly polished, burled oak with a finish more like glass than wood. The style could only have been described as contemporary baroque, as there was no corner or angle that did not have a massively decorative accent. The brass pulls and handles would have looked at home in the Vatican and the chandeliers in each room alternated from brilliant gold to shimmering Venetian glass.
Antonia led the way to the kitchen, the heart of any Italian home. Her mother, a short, large woman, was busy preparing pasta sauce. A large pot was bubbling on the stove. RoseAnna could see the rich red, plum tomatoes and smell the tantalizing mix of garlic, onions, fresh basil and green peppers. The aroma permeated the house. On the counter lay remnants of the tomatoes and spices.
The kitchen was spacious and included a long table with seating for eight. On the wall, in close proximity, was a three dimensional plaster replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Incongruously, directly opposite, in a corner niche of the counter between the refrigerator and stove, was a blue, first generation iMac. Its colour complimented the tangerine wall paint.
Antonia’s mother looked up with a wide smile. When she spoke, it was in the Sicilian dialect that RoseAnna knew from home. “Your father picked the tomatoes and peppers from the garden. Now he has disappeared back into that jungle of vegetables. Little did I know when I left Sicily to marry him that my rival for his affection would be a tomato plant.” She warmly welcomed RoseAnna, then sent them out to the garden to retrieve her husband.
Don Leoncore was immaculately dressed. He wore a black suit with matching vest and fedora. His shirt was whiter than any soap commercial could boast. He wore no tie, but would have looked amazingly proper at a state funeral. His slow walk down the rows of vegetables was due to rheumatism rather than age, although he appeared to be in his seventies. Antonia called out to him. “Papa, come meet RoseAnna, and Mama wants us all indoors.” He was bent over examining a partially ripened tomato and raised himself to look their way. RoseAnna thought she detected a gleam of approval in his eyes. As he walked toward them, lifting his right hand and swirling it gently in the air in a circular motion, he said, “La vecchiaia e una carogna.” His voice was a soft semi-whisper, but he smiled. RoseAnna returned his smile. “My father says the same thing,” she answered in dialect, “old age is a cross to bear.” She had not knowingly made a convert of the old man. He took RoseAnna’s arm and, turning to his daughter, asked, nonchalantly,”Antonia, is Gino coming for dinner?”
A few hours later, the family including Sal and his wife and Uncle Giacomo was together. They were waiting for Gino to arrive. A nagging suspicion had been swirling in RoseAnna’s head. She had the distinct impression that a match-up between her and Gino was under way . She had never met him and had heard of him only in passing from Antonia. She was no admirer of the old country’s arranged marriage philosophy; she was American, and it had to be her choice. Besides, she was still young, not involved with anyone, and looking forward to a career. All these thoughts preyed on her mind as she helped Antonia set the table. They were to eat in the kitchen and not the formal dining room. Antonia confided that the last time the dining room had been used was for the post funeral reception for Uncle Giacomo’s beloved wife, and that’s been eight years now.
Then Gino arrived. His fire engine red Camaro adorned with orange flames and sparkling chrome wheels was heard first. It roared up the driveway, the muffler emitting powerful, guttural sounds that almost blocked out the blare of the car stereo. His holler from the front foyer was next. He swooped into the kitchen, grabbing his mother about her ample waist and waltzed her about the room. She shooed him away with a tea towel, panting and laughing. “Hey, Sal, who owns that Ford piece of… ?” He stopped dead, only then realizing that a stranger was present. He stood, awkwardly still, in his open-necked, silk shirt. The exposed chains of gold at his throat were as thick in weight as they were thin on class. But, strip away the adornments of his perceived chicness and he was a darkly handsome young man with fine, patrician features and eyes as black as coal. He looked at RoseAnna and smiled, exposing a set of teeth that rivaled his father’s shirt for whiteness. But all he could utter was a weak, “Hey.”
It was not that Gino didn’t like women, but he had a business to look after. He had purposely steered away from any commitment in the love department. Family thinking had instilled a love-equals-marriage frame of mind that he could not shake. Now before him stood an absolute angel with a face as sweet as a madonna’s and a smile that could melt steel. His knees felt strange and his legs had a decided tremor. “Hey,” he repeated, and immediately felt stupid.
Antonia stepped in, sensing the electricity between them. She introduced them formally and managed to pick a topic for small talk that Gino jumped at: the business. They all chatted noisily through dinner which was the usual elaborate, multi-course Italian meal. It started with razor-thin slices of prosciutto, artichoke hearts, bocconcini cheese and wedges of fresh cantaloupe. The antipasto was followed by a light chicken broth of quadretti pasta and tiny chicken meat balls flavoured with parsley and Parmesan cheese. The third course was the requisite pasta dish with tender butterfly-shaped pasta topped with the plum tomato sauce whose scent had permeated the house. The mixed fish dish came next, comprised of deep fried calamari, shrimp, scallops, and octopus. A large salad, with an incredible variety of leaf structures, in an olive oil and vinaigrette topping was served next. The finale was the traditional Italian desert, a bowl of fresh fruit, overflowing with colour, variety and goodness. All through the meal, corks popped, as many bottles of homemade red and white wine were enthusiastically consumed.
RoseAnna confided that she had been a Macintosh user for years. Impulsively, Gino rushed to his Camaro and retrieved one of the three iMacs in the trunk. He brought it in and placed it on the table next to the left over calamari. When his mother objected, he placed it on the kitchen counter. “This is for you. It’s the new Special Edition,” he said proudly, “a gift from Slightly-Used-Macs.” He held up his hand when she was about to object. “You must take it. A gift given in friendship is to be treasured,” he said, losing himself in the reflection of her eyes.
“Thank you,” RoseAnna replied. “You have all been so kind and welcoming. I knew you would be because Antonia was that way at school. She was my best friend, and now I have more best friends.” She glanced at Gino and quickly looked away in embarrassment. “Now I would like to share my news with you,” she continued, turning to Antonia. “You know how desperately I wanted a job close to home and preferably in New York City. I just received confirmation that I was selected to join the Investigations Committee on Organized Crime for the New York State District Attorney’s office. I start Tuesday.”
[to be continued]
Ralph J. Luciani