Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Author: Gabriel Valjan
Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing
About the Book:
Bianca is in Naples for Turning To Stone, the fourth book in the Roma Series from author Gabriel Valjan. Loki, her mysterious contact, is now giving Bianca baffling anagrams. They seem to lead to a charismatic entrepreneur who has a plan to partner with organized crime to manipulate the euro and American dollar. Against a backdrop of gritty streets, financial speculation, and a group of female assassins on motorcycles, Bianca and her friends discover that Naples might just be the most dangerous city in Italy.
Excerpt from Turning To Stone by Gabriel Valjan1
He was back at work.
Farrugia and Noelle had had a beautiful meal together, an even more beautiful night in bed together. It almost made him cry that she was so forgiving after the fiasco at the airport. Not even two minutes into his excuse making, telling her about the bullshit with McGarrity’s arrest, she put her fingers to his lips and said, “Shut up and kiss me.” His heart skipped the proverbial beat when she insisted that she cook for him. She had said that she had been taking a class on southern cooking as a surprise.
He felt like a child again with the antipasto. A plate of fresh-fried anchovies--Alici fritte--was to him what French fries were to American children. He was like the swordfish she cooked for the main course in that he gave her no struggle. Pesce Spada alla Ghiotta. He had pulled a Sicilian white wine from out of the rack to accompany the swordfish done “glutton’s style,” with tomato, capers, and olives. She told him there would be something special for dessert.
There was—they made love on the kitchen table. Love had made Commissario Isidore Farrugia imbranato: a goofy mess.
And now, in Scampia on an overcast morning, he was back in reality.
He watched the car ease into the parking lot. This was it. He was happy he had seen Noelle one last time, happy he had been able to spend some precious time with her in his real apartment and not in the dummy one he kept during the week in Scampia.
The car had slowed down, parked, and the door opened.
This was supposed to be a meet; “Important,” he was told over the phone by some Totaro thug he knew by name but had never met. The voice sounded as if it belonged to a three hundred-pound brute in a stained wife-beater shirt, with a paunch, some gold chains around his neck that included a crucifix and a gold cornicello, the little horn used to ward offmalocchio, the Evil Eye. The goon on the phone said that he was sending Stefano with the details.
Post-coital endorphins and paranoia did not mix well.
He had arrived earlier than the scheduled time for the appointment. He had developed enough of a rapport with Stefano that allowed Farrugia to call him “Ste,” a shortened form of his name that maintained the part that carried the stress in the full name and reminded Farrugia of the English “stay” as he had heard in commands, such as “Stay put!” and “Stay here.” That was the first sign that he was in, but the System, like most crime outfits, will send the friend to kill you. It was a courtesy not to have a stranger kill you, and a humble reminder that business is business and never personal.
Farrugia feigned fixing his belt. He had his gun near his tailbone. Would Stefano shoot him from a distance? Were there no chivalrous last words, no Judas kiss before Ste made his lethal move? Another mark of respect was to kill someone up close. The way the corpse was left behind explained why the person had been killed. There was enough sign and symbol in gangland killings to fuel several doctoral dissertations.
Stefano reached into his breast pocket. Farrugia’s hand tightened around the stock. Stefano’s hand was coming out.
Cigarette pack and lighter.
They exchanged pleasantries. This was looking as if it would be a genuine conversation, unless it was a prelude to an ambush. Farrugia kept surveying the area through his sunglasses. The Totaros could have set them both up, which is why Farrugia had cased the area earlier for all the possible entrances, exits, and blind spots.
Ste stopped, lit his cigarette, and took some small puffs. He was puffing like a slow locomotive as he approached. Ste was from Apulia, and his last name was predictable even for the dumbest genealogist: Pugliese. His record was what the police called “small-fry” because all of his infractions were from his teenage years. He would’ve made the upper rung of the Totaro clan had he not committed those youthful indiscretions.
No mistake about it: Stefano was a known man, not associated with System violence but with a record. He was smart, not flashy, and discreet as a small-town mayor having an affair. He got things done in a friendly manner. He was also an excellent PR man in the Totaro territories. He disliked violence unless it had a purpose. Stefano Pugliese was the perfect middle-management type, directing crews and reporting back to the capos who, in turn, reported to Amerigo Totaro.
“Good to see you,” said Ste.
“Likewise. Do you want to stay here or drive around and talk?”
“Here is fine, unless you want to sit in the car for the AC.”
“I’m good,” said Farrugia.
“I’ll try and make it quick. Something big is coming down.”
“I’m listening.” Let Ste spell it out since it could be anything, drugs from the Calabrians, guns from the Russians, fake fashion from a Chinese sweatshop.
“This is new, out of Foggia.”
Foggia? The city was known for being bombed to rubble during the Second World War, known for its wheat fields and delicious watermelons and tomatoes. But he had a feeling the Totaros weren’t interested in fruit.
“This could be more your moment, Pinuccio. This might make you.”
“Pinuccio” was a diminutive of Giuseppe, Farrugia’s undercover alias. A nickname was earned, and using the diminutive was a sign of respect, of affection. Ste was saying that this business might lead to Giuseppe’s acceptance as a man with rank within the System.
“This sounds serious, Ste,” Farrugia said. “Tell me more.”
“Counterfeiting? Impressive and high-risk, although I know sentences are turned on appeal.”
“Look at you—a lawyer before you get near a courthouse. Don’t be superstitious. There’s always a risk, but don’t worry too much,” Ste smiled. Farrugia tried to appear concerned.
“C’mon,” Ste said, “this is a one-time gig. There’s big money involved and plenty to go around. Besides, there’s a truce with the Marra clan.”
“You’re shitting me, right? A truce?” Farrugia wasn’t play-acting his shock. This was news. “When did that happen? No, never mind. You don’t have to explain. The color of money did it all.”
Ste fished out another cigarette and let it hang from his smiling lips. “The risk is low. I’ve been told that everything has been greased from high to low so a fish could pedal a bike across the Piazza del Plebiscito and nobody would say a word, including the priests.”
“Really?” Farrugia said, playing along. “If it’s that easy then go have a kid do it. You know how the courts treat kids.”
“Relax, will you? We have somebody on the inside with the Anti-counterfeiting Unit, and the Marra clan is showing good faith.”
“Good faith? What does that mean?”
“They handed over a sample from their presses in Giugliano, gratis. You’re to pick up the rest. Giugliano meets Foggia.”
“Is it any good?”
“Absolute artwork, my friend.” Ste took the cigarette out of his mouth to kiss the tips of his fingers. “Five hundred-euro notes of such beauty that any of the renaissance masters would have cried had they seen them. Perfection.”
“Five hundred-euro notes? Are you insane? That’s much too large.”
“In Italy, it’d get attention, but do you think the Bulgarians, the Colombians, and the Russians give a damn?”
He had a point. Farrugia also knew that the Africans and Middle Easterners were using fake euros to buy up real estate in their home countries. He remained quiet. He needed Ste to think that he was not convinced.
Giugliano was a hotbed for counterfeiting. Multigenerational counterfeiters there were masters, trained from childhood. These forgers picked every ingredient like a master chef. The chemicals, paper, the ink, dryers—the entire process had to be just right. Picking a bad tomato or a watermelon doesn’t get you five to ten years in prison. So what was the connection to Foggia? What was coming out of Foggia?
Cigarette smoke lingered near his face.
“What do you say?” Ste asked.
“What do you want me to say? I know shit about fake euros. How will I know whether the goods are quality when I get there? You’re telling me that the Marra family is behind this and the Totaros aren’t sleeping with one eye open.”
“You worry too much, you know that? I’ll be there myself. Marra and Totaros meet, and you’re responsible for our friends from Calabria. It’s strictly an exchange and nothing more. The Marras have guaranteed it. Part of the new peace, don’t you see? The Totaro clan gets free money as a one-time gesture, and everyone moves forward. The Marra see a sample of Totaro work done in Foggia.”
Farrugia muttered, “A regular company meeting.” Something wasn’t adding up. He wanted to show some suspicion. “Tell me one good reason why I should do this and not be thinking chrysanthemums and a funeral hymn, huh? Tell me one.”
The man put out the cigarette, exhaled a cloud of smoke, and crushed the butt with his heel. It was a nice touch. “I’ll give you more than one reason if you like, Pinucc.” You’re the man between the Totaros and the Calabrians, and the Marras don’t have that kind of in with the ’Ndrangheta. The Marras want to enjoy the benefits of working with your compatriots that the Totaros are enjoying. The Totaros know that, so they put you up. You’re the Calabrian. You have any idea how huge that is? The Totaros will be very grateful to you, and since we’re friends they’ll be nice to me. Need I say more?”
“Yeah, I feel like Othello before the Venetian Senate.” They both laughed. “And the Totaros think they’ll get money for nothing? What happens afterwards?”
Ste shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know. But I’ll say this: if the Marras screw the Totaros, then they’re screwing the Calabrians, and the Totaros can come back at the Marras with the ’Ndrangheta behind them. You tell me, why would the Marras do that to themselves?”
He said nothing. It seemed plausible, but nothing was that easy.
“What is it? You don’t look convinced,” Ste said.
“Did you ever think that the Marras might have some other plan in place?”
“This is serious money. Enemies will sit around a table if there is money to be made. I can tell you one thing, though.” Farrugia waited for the next pitch. “They’ll have a chair at the table for you to make things go well with the Calabrians.”
“Ste? A few days ago I heard on the news that the euro bond had beaten expectations. Sounds like the Americans are at it again with their ‘quantitative easing.’”
“Quantitative what?” The man’s eyebrows lifted.
“The Fed floods the market with dollars. Then it buys back the bonds the government issues, which keeps the dollar artifically low against the euro and that makes the U.S. exports more competitive.”
Ste had his fingers searching the cigarette pack but stopped. “What the hell do you care? Watch the news for the weather like everyone else! Are you in on this or what?” Another unlit cigarette hung from the man’s lips.
“Yeah, I’m in. Call me later with the details.”
Ste lit his cigarette. “Now you’re talking. You won’t regret this. I was worried about you there for a second.”
“Why?” Farrugia asked.
“I don’t know. You sounded like a financial analyst or something.”
Turning To Stone
COPYRIGHT © 2015 by Gabriel Valjan
Excerpt appears courtesy of Winter Goose Publishing