La Familia
Part One
by sarAdora

~~~~~~~~~~

Low murmuring woke her, the deeply resonant baritone voices soft but still disturbing in the hush of the cathedral. She wasn't stupid... she kept her eyes closed, her breath easy, and listened.

Giancarlo Ruggiero Batali lit candles to his favorite saints as his men reported their findings. The candles were touched reverently... as if each individual saint watched the ceremonious acts... each one waiting its turn for adoration. The broad shouldered man made the sign of the cross after each candle burned brightly, a habit his mother had ingrained in him from childhood.

"So we moved the stuff to the warehouse, Boss," one of the men reported as he watched the man to whom he had given his loyalty for life.

"And we can deliver the other goods in time just like you said," another added.

"What about the heavy stuff?" one of the men asked. "Who's gonna take responsibility for that?"

"The police are gonna be pissed as hell," the first guy snorted.

"Basta! Enough!" Giancarlo glared. "You are in a house of God! Have you no respect?"

The apologies were swift and sincere; no one in their right mind would willingly offend Giancarlo Ruggiero Batali, a man younger than his minions but also the non-disputed head of their vast organization.

Francesca Minucci sent a silent prayer heavenward. She knew who the big man was... and was frightened that she had heard too much, frightened that they would come after her. The sixteen-year old tried to make herself smaller but there was nowhere to hide. She had been sleeping in a pew near the statues of the saints, the lit candles keeping her warm. If she could just feign sleep when they passed her on their way out...

Giancarlo knew the girl was there. He had spotted her when they came in but chose to ignore her. The church was one of the few places a young girl was safe from the street pimps. He accepted the church as holy ground and respected her right to be left alone. And she was a little thing; what harm could come from letting the waif sleep while he paid fealty to the saints?

Voices faded away as the last candle was lit so that Giancarlo could offer a last silent prayer. His men often wondered what was in his mind when he lit the candles - a ritual he performed at least twice a week. They all attended Mass but none were as devout as their boss was. There were those in their community that called him Mafioso and crossed themselves when his name was spoken. Others referred to him as Godfather, but whether the appellation was out of respect or fear was debatable. He had earned his bones early - at the tender age of twelve, he had garroted the man who had killed his father, disposed of the garrote, dragged the body to a dump, washed his hands, and went to school.

Slowly, and with maturity, cunning and cautious planning, he built an organization of close and loyal followers. The Batali "boys" were known as good boys. They went to school and to church and were always civil and respectful to their elders. Giancarlo insisted on good manners, loyalty to a fault, and adherence to his own special code of conduct. They helped old people cross the street; they ran errands for their parents without complaint. They studied hard and made good grades. They were never in trouble with the police. They were outstanding members of the community.

By the time Giancarlo and his closest cronies had graduated college, they were the silent partners of thirty-two five-and-dime stores across the state, twenty-three mom-and-pop groceries, nineteen gasoline stations, fourteen bars, nine supper clubs, six exercise gyms, and ran every brothel in the city. Their organization was filled with lawyers, accountants, merchants, doctors, architects, engineers, investment bankers and numerous members of the building trades. They were wealthy, generous with their wealth and mostly content.

New members of Batali's organization were scrutinized. Giancarlo maintained the same standards in his adult life as he had when he was younger but he tolerated individual deviations. As long as a member's proclivities didn't disturb the smooth workings of his vast organization, he ignored them.

There were two exceptions. He didn't tolerate the purchase, sale or use of illicit drugs. Anyone found abusing this edict was summarily removed - often in a lethal manner. Prostitution was something else entirely. It was going to happen regardless; Giancarlo felt he might as well profit from it. His "ladies" were examined weekly by competent medical staff. Any lady in need of medical intervention received it - free. Any lady caught using drugs found herself plying the trade on a street corner. She was no longer welcome in Giancarlo's organization. "Retired" ladies received a life-long pension and continued medical care.

The other exception was politics and politicians. Giancarlo had no love for what he called flimflam artists. He saw politicians as self-serving, self-indulgent and mostly shameful. He had seen men align themselves with those who would bring in the most votes, create deep pockets for each other and conveniently forget the "people" they served, people who were easily duped into believing what they wanted to believe. He didn't endorse any of them but quietly financed a select few who had proven to be decent folk.

Giancarlo was a thoughtful and benevolent criminal.

And an only son... and his mother wanted grandchildren... yesterday.

Francesca Minucci grew up in foster care. At eleven years of age, she ran away from social service workers and could have ended up on the streets. Fate, in the form of Angelina Mancuso saved her from a life of degradation, prostitution and early death. Angelina was a woman with two robust and generous lovers. Paolo loved her Mondays and Thursdays; Leonardo loved her Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesday was her day off; Angelina shopped and cooked on Saturdays and Sundays were reserved for the church.

She was strict with Francesca, making sure the girl did her homework and helped with chores around the house. They were good for each other - Angelina had someone to mother; Francesca had a stable home. Social services didn't see it that way. They knew Angelina was "kept" by capos in the Batali organization. Time and time again, they removed Francesca from Angelina's keeping, returning her to foster care. Francesca would be gone a night or two and then mysteriously return to Angelina's apartment. It was like a game and Angelina was tired of it. She appealed to her lovers to ask the Godfather to intervene.

Money exchanged hands, files were lost and Francesca was "adopted" by Angelina Mancuso. Paolo and Leonardo were loyal to Giancarlo and in return for that loyalty, Francesca was free to live with Angelina.

Until...

Paolo made an idle comment... "Hey, bambina," he smiled at Francesca when he arrived for supper one night, tousling the teenager's hair. "You turnin' into quite a looker, ragazza girl."

"Keep your hands off!" Angelina barked at her lover.

"Just bein' friendly," the bear of a man replied.

"Don't give her no ideas, Paolo. Francesca's a young woman and young women need protection, not touchin' from the likes of you."

"Oh yeah," he grinned as he scooped his Monday/Thursday lover into his arms. "How about I touch you, instead?"

"I'm the only one you *can* touch," Angelina snapped. "And you better remember that!"

Paolo was happy to remember that. Angelina had a temper like no other woman he knew and crossing her was like playing Russian roulette with a fully loaded pistol. The result would be lethal and immediate. Angelina loved Paolo but she was a grizzly bear protecting her cub when it came to Francesca. Leonardo also noticed that Francesca seemed more mature and wondered if she would soon take lovers. His nephew was a good-looking boy with a promising career in architecture. He even had Giancarlo's eye. What could be better for a young woman like Francesca than a well-liked member of the Batali organization? He mentioned it to Angelina.

Angelina's response was swift. Leonardo was banned from her bed for an entire month of Tuesdays and Fridays.

Angelina had higher hopes for Francesca. The young woman was going to college... in another town... an all girls' school. Angelina would pay the bills; Francesca would study hard. When she graduated, she would have a career and she would never be dependent on a man for money.

And so... Francesca took the G.E.D. exam and finished high school early. The results of her college entrance exams were high enough that she was accepted into the university and here she was, in church the night before she was to take the train... away from the only loving home she knew. Faithfully, she had attended Mass with Angelina every Sunday. She was never much for God and saints and organized religion but she respected Angelina's wishes and attended. She never went to confession; she never received Communion. If forced, she would have gone to confession and made up stories just to appease the priest. When it came to absolution, she kept her opinions to herself. All the "Hail Mary's" and "Our Fathers" were nothing more than a litany of words to her. She knew one had to believe in order to receive any form of grace; Francesca was not a believer.

The only reason she was in church when Giancarlo and his men showed up was because it was a quiet and safe place to sit and think. Her life was changing; she had a lot to think about. She had fallen asleep by accident and when she heard the murmur of voices, had awakened, realized who was speaking and feigned sleep so that she wouldn't have to invite unwelcome attention and subsequent conversation. If prayer was powerful, she prayed the big man ignored her. Giancarlo Batali was only twenty-six years of age but the powerful head of one of the largest Mafia Familias. He had a complex reputation: ruthless, benevolent, hot tempered, well mannered, generous, kind, and territorial. Avoiding interaction with this man was prudent and a matter of survival.

In a matter of moments, the low murmuring soothed Francesca back into slumber and when she woke, she was alone with the Catholic God and a multitude of saints. Yawning, she stretched and then noted the time. It was late and Angelina would be worried. She hurried out the door.

He had been waiting for her, the traitor in the Batali organization, the man that had taken a blood oath when he swore loyalty to Giancarlo Batali. He had waited years for revenge; Giancarlo had killed his brother for dealing drugs and he wanted to see the young arrogant punk dead.

Francesca didn't even have time to scream before he put the chloroformed cloth over her nose and mouth. He planned to leave her dead body in the trunk of Giancarlo's limousine. Smiling grimly, he'd be sure her clothing had samples of the Mafia leader's DNA... strands of his hair... lint from the coat he had worn this evening.

But first... he'd enjoy her young body.

~ End Part One ~

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