1910 – Sicily
In a land where males rule, revere wine, engage in violence and pay homage to God, a boy is born. Salvatore and Maria Rosali, owners of a small tailor shop near Palermo, christen him Angelo.
After years of carefree living in the centuries-old village of Montevago, ten year old Angelo is about to encounter something most people dread, reality.
It’s early afternoon, a crowd of men down the street arouse Angelo’s curiosity. Moving towards them, the group turns silent and waits for his lanky form to pass. Feigning disinterest Angelo strolls past the array of somber stares. Turning right, he hides behind a stack of boxes. The group continues chatting, what he hears is frightening. There’s talk of something called the Black Hand, vendettas and graphic details of murder. The horror sends him racing home. Out of breath with a terrified expression, he encounters his parents. Preferring not to worry them, he describes an encounter with a large dog.
During the night, visions of terror and concern for his parent’s safety interfere with sleep.
In the morning a strong desire to ease anxious feelings creates a belief the tailor shop’s far enough from Palermo and no cause for alarm. Unaware hopes and dreams are no match for reality, he moves on with altered innocence. The once sleepy town transformed overnight. Familiar surroundings along with the faces of once friendly neighbors no longer offer confidence.
What occurs months later resembles a nightmare, an unexpected act so vile the entire village is outraged. On that dreaded day, innocent Angelo is dragged into a dimension where escape isn’t an option. The shock and darkness that follows shields him momentarily but soon after succumbs to the horror preferring death to reality.
On the ship, Angelo struggles with disturbing images. Convulsing with emotion, he sits with his back against a bunk. The only thing keeping him from simply lying down and dying is the why, a pocket-sized word maintaining heart beating and blood flowing. Curled up as hard as he could, skinny limbs held tight by equally thin arms his mind conjures a parade of why’s heading noisily towards him. The drums rumble why, trumpets blare why and marchers shout why, why, why? As the parade fades in the distance the only thing left behind is the why’s floating around him as he drifts off to sleep.
After the death of his parents, Angelo’s childhood disintegrated. One moment he was playing with friends and the next, an orphan running for his life with an equally terrified uncle pulling on his arm. With no time for tears, the why’s started then but sullen faced Uncle Carlo had no answers, he was too busy creating distance between him and a faceless predator he never saw. Carlo could have easily run off and left Angelo but pangs of guilt created the decision to bring him along. Unknown to Angelo, a dark secret is now part of his life. Huddled next to his uncle, those around him aren’t aware of Angelo’s agony, but if they did it wouldn’t make any difference. The collection of frightened immigrants inside a ship plowing through heaving seas in the middle of the night has their own terror to deal with. The grimy stench filled quarters of the rolling vessel doesn’t offer much confidence it would even make it to America.
With heart and soul lingering in Sicily, Angelo’s first week at sea is spent in self imposed isolation. Refusing to speak, flashbacks torment him to the point of madness and questions with no answers confuse him. Desperate, he stares at people, searching for what he doesn’t know. His behavior creates a belief he’s mentally retarded.
Mario, a boy two years older notices something adults don’t see. Befriending Angelo, the bonding distracts him from the horror left behind. The result’s an emotionally sedated boy scurrying around confined steerage quarters with the why’s tucked away somewhere in his head.
The ship enters New York harbor on a cold rainy morning. The sight of tall grey buildings stacked together on the tip of an island creates agitated murmuring among immigrants. Sensing nothing but the pungent smell of the bay, Angelo surveys the dreary panorama with emotionless eyes. Turning his attention to the expanse of water, a mammoth figure rising from a small island captivates him. Gazing at the sculpted form standing on an equally large pedestal, he’s certain this is the lady with the torch he’s heard so much about. Nothing matters now. Tears escape, forcing him to look down momentarily. Rubbing quickly flooded eyes with his sleeve, the maternal symbol produces fond memories of his mother. As preparations for disembarking begin, a strange soothing feeling shrouds his body. Oblivious to the commotion, Angelo cuddles in a warm secure place of mind. An abrupt pull on a sleeve fails to interrupt his trancelike state. Concerned, Uncle Carlo pulls on his jacket several times. “Come on kid snap out of it you gotta remain alert.”
After docking, steerage passengers are ferried by barge to Ellis Island. Shocked by the mass of humanity he regains calm when chaos transforms into something resembling order. Numbered tags pinned on clothing indicate manifest page and line number where immigrant’s names appear. As the ethnic mix lines up from the dock to a baggage room inside a large building, strange languages assault his ears.
“That’s Jewish, that’s Irish and that’s Polish, but the first thing you need to learn is English.” Uncle Carlo points out each time conversations erupt between immigrants.
Unaware of his shady past and smuggling career Angelo knew little about Uncle Carlo. After months at sea his return always created a festive mood in the small village. Everyone gathered to greet him with music and dancing. A tall charismatic individual with a persistent smile, he brought presents and exciting stories from different parts of the world. Angelo preferred tales of far off places with strange sounding names often creating dreams and fantasies. Angelo’s presently experiencing one such vision. America seemed alien then, a place so distant he often discarded it as an illusion never to occur. It’s difficult to accept he’s standing on the very ground of dreams.
A flight of stairs leads to a registry room on the second floor where doctors and inspector’s wait. Angelo gawks at people being marked with chalk before being detained. Fear of exclusion hangs heavy over all. Carlo makes him nervous telling him to listen carefully when questioned. Afterwards the only thing asked was his name, learning it was to see if he was deaf or dumb. After being scrutinized and processed they descend from the registry room.
During the short trip to the mainland Carlo points to their destination. The dreary panoramic view of Red Hook offers a deceiving tranquil portrait of warehouses nestled near the water’s edge. Housing tons of cargo the structures also shelters a multitude of men notorious for their ability to rule with violence. Distracted by the stench from an inland canal, Angelo fails to notice his future drifting by.
EXCERPT FROM BOOK SOON ON SALE AT AUTHORS DEN BOOKSTORE
This is not your run of the mill gangster story. The tale is taken from real life and doesn’t follow what you might expect of Cosa Nostra associates. It paints the life of those in the shadows of the underworld and it’s effect on their daily lives.