Chapter 7: The Italian Connection
What happened in Italy that caused you to run from the mob?
Angila was a simple girl. She had nothing in common with the glamorous movie star and countess Dorothy di Frasso. The countess, as she preferred to be called, was a snob who was in awe of gangsters such as me and Ben but thought that she was too important to be in the company of commoners such as Angila. This posed a problem for Ben and I because we would have to find an excuse to leave the two of them to tend to our business, and they couldn’t stand one another. We had two weeks to worry about solving the problem and intended to have fun in the meantime.
The four of us spent the better part of the first couple of days touring the Roman Colosseum, visiting the Vatican, and taking in the history of Rome. It would have been much more fun had the countess been more considerate to Angila. Late one evening, we had dinner at the Pierluigi Ristorante. Bugsy Siegel—I never called him that to his face—informed us that he and the countess had been invited to meet with Mussolini on Friday, but Angila and I were not invited. “The two of you should go on to San Vincenzo without us, and we will meet up with you in Venice.” My instructions were to intercede if this situation was to occur, but I couldn’t explain that in front of the girls. I waited for an opportunity to speak to Ben alone but I never had the chance, because the countess never left his side.
The next morning, Angila and I arrived by train in San Vincenzo, a beautiful small town situated on the Italian Riviera. At this point, I didn’t give a damn if I wasn’t following Costello’s instructions to the letter. Ben was a grown man and had been in the Mob since he was a child. Not to mention that he had a reputation for being a cold-blooded killer. There was no way that I was going to argue with him. Besides, I was glad to be free of them. Angila and I had a wonderful time, sunning on the beach, dining beachside, and making love every day. We were in San Vincenzo for a week. During that time, we took the train on a day-trip to Pisa to see the leaning tower and did another day-trip to Florence to see David. This was the life for me; not killing people or being shot at. I made up my mind that I was finished with the Mob. I had enough money that I could start my own business somewhere, maybe there in Italy. Angila said many times that she wanted for us to open a gift shop that sold perfumes.
We met up with Ben and the countess at the Hotel Londra Palace, where we stayed while in Venice. Of all the places on earth that I have visited, no other place can top Venice. It is simply the most romantic city on the planet. The people of Venice are among the friendliest and most helpful in the world. The views in every direction all over the city are breathtaking and more stimulating than my brain could process. Every narrow street was adorned with gift shops that sold shoes and women’s purses, luggage, and souvenirs. “Maybe we can open a shop and live here?” Angila asked in her sweet voice. “Maybe so,” I replied with sincerity. It would have been a perfect time if it had not been for the countess’s relentless and progressively ruder remarks meant to insult Angila.
The four of us were having drinks at the Antico Martini, when Ben described his meeting with Mussolini. “He was this close and I should have killed him with my bare hands.” According to Ben, German Nazis Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels were there also. “I didn’t like those Nazi bastards.” The apparent reason for the meeting was for Mussolini to purchase arms stolen from American armories, but Ben said that he wouldn’t do business with the Jew-hating Nazis. Ben was fully engaged in telling this story when both the countess and Angila excused themselves. This was the first opportunity for Ben and me to talk. He quickly leaned closer to say, “We must be in Naples in three days, but we have to find a way to separate from the women.” We both agreed that it would not be easy since the women despised each other.
“I’ve got it!” I said. “The plan is for me to be seen at a distance. The women can be in the car with me; they can be the reason that I cannot be approached.” Ben thought that it was a great plan. The problem was that the women would be too close to danger for our comfort, but we chose to go with it anyway.
The women did not want to leave Venice, and neither did I, but business is business. After checking into our hotel room in Naples, Angila and I spent the next twenty-four hours in bed. We didn’t even leave the room to eat, calling room service for every meal. We might never have left the room had it not been for Ben knocking persistently. “Get dressed. I need to talk to you in private, downstairs in the lounge.”
He placed a briefcase on the top of the corner table. There was no one else in the lounge other than the bartender. “I’ve thought about it, and we can’t have both of the girls with us when we do our business,” he said. “Vito might recognize the countess, and that could be a problem; she’s married, you know?” He went on to explain that the suitcase contained two million British pounds sterling and that we were to deliver it to Vito, as the Mob’s investment in a heroin enterprise.
Ben went on to explain that the problem was that Vito felt as though he was passed over as the new Mob boss when Lucky went to jail. Vito had been Lucky’s underboss, but Costello was chosen to run things for Lucky. “If he thinks that Lucky is no longer in jail, that keeps him in check, but he is going to want to approach you to find out for himself why Lucky picked Frank Costello over him as the acting boss. If Angila is with you, that will give him pause to approach you, but the countess does not need to be anywhere around. I agreed, and was quite pleased with this change in plan. The meeting takes place this afternoon.
We rented a car for the occasion. Since I spoke fluent Italian, I was selected to be the driver. Ben rode in the back seat. We parked the car across from a harbor, just as Ben had been instructed. The car was positioned so that I could be seen. Ben looked at his watch, and then opened the suitcase to inspect its contents. I took the opportunity to glance at the contents as well; and it was filled with neatly stacked bills banded together, I would guess, in ten thousand pound increments. As he opened the door to exit the car, he said: “Leave the engine running, and keep the doors unlocked in case I have to make a quick getaway.”
To my surprise, he left the suitcase in the car, walking down the pier empty-handed to meet Vito. I looked at Angila and asked her, “Do you trust me?”
“Of course I do,” she replied.
“Then hang on, because our life is about to get really exciting.”
I waited until Ben had gotten to the far end of the pier where Vito was waiting and then I pressed the accelerator to the floor and sped away. Angila screamed for an explanation.
“Look in the suitcase!”
She did. “Are we stealing money? Are you a thief?”
“This is my money. Ben told me that it was going to be used for a legitimate investment, but I just learned that he was going to use it to buy heroin, so I am backing out of the deal.”
“How did you get so much money?”
“I’ve been saving it for years. I will explain later, but baby, these men are very dangerous, we must hide out for a little while.”
She looked very skeptical but did not argue. We drove to Rome and rented a hotel room off the beaten path. Rome is a big city, which would make it more difficult to be found there than anywhere else in Italy. But knowing that Vito had become an important Mafia boss in Naples, nowhere in Italy would be safe.