The Hunter – Chapter 1

June 8, 2012 at 12:32 am (The Hunter)

10 Miles Northwest of Agrigento, Sicily

July 5, 2:15am

No one told him dying would be so damn painful.

Bullets ripped through flesh. Gouts of blood spurted in the air. Pain coursed through him. People dove for cover. Bullets were coming from all directions. Falchi hadn’t expected there to be so many shooters. Something had gone wrong.

 

Three Days Earlier

Bernardo Falchi hated hiding. It made him feel like a coward and how could a coward run a family as strong as the Calderones? He’d had hits put out on him before. He’d survived three assassination attempts in the past. One had killed his wife and daughter, but had thankfully not taken his son. He’d been shot twice. He’d been stabbed several times in wars with other families. And he’d overcome two separate challenges for leadership of the Calderone Family.

Yet here he was, hiding away like a frightened Nona, because some agency from America had put him on their hit list. He knew very little about this agency, but his consigliere had heard rumours and didn’t want him taking any unnecessary chances. Falchi’s son wasn’t old enough to shave yet, never mind run the family. Only his underboss had the experience to replace him, but Roncalli wasn’t as popular with the rest of the family. Not as much as he needed to be, if it came down to a vote. Falchi had been the boss for the past three years and he hadn’t needed to coerce anyone into voting for him. Roncalli wouldn’t be as lucky.

It’s why Falchi knew he had to die. His sudden death would force the family to replace him and Roncalli was the only one who could, on such short notice. With Falchi gone, Roncalli would have enough time to prove himself before anyone could organize a vote. And if Falchi’s death happened just as a large shipment of cocaine was being transferred into their possession, all the better. Roncalli could take over the exchange and see to the disbursement of the drugs, all while grieving the loss of his boss and mentor.

Not that Falchi intended to actually die. He wasn’t going to go that far for Roncalli. With a little careful planning and a lot of money, he would disappear and then get a new face. He couldn’t go back to the Calderones, but at least he’d be alive. He’d buy a house, get a new mistress, and settle in to a comfortable, if less exciting life. The careful planning meant he had to be away from everyone who knew him, including his son. That meant leaving Palermo, where the Calderones essentially ran the city.

Marsala wasn’t far away, geographically, but as far as his influence and the familiarity of his face in the town went, he could be anybody. With few people around to see him, the job wouldn’t get screwed up by good intentions. Two of his capos, the Damiani twins, would be the first to dive in front of him to take a bullet. They’d done it before. His third capo, Borelli, would dive the opposite way. Borelli’s promotion from soldier to capo was not one Falchi had approved, but he’d been overruled by family vote.

It was fortuitous timing, if one could use such a phrase to describe his pending death, that had this hit coming down just days before they were to accept a large shipment from the Mexicans. He hated working with the Mexicans. They were liars and cheats and they were all too happy to pull a trigger rather than talk something out. But they had kept up their end of the deal, as far as supply went. Eighty percent of all the cocaine in Europe came through Sicily and fully twenty percent of that from the Calderone family. Mexicans made some of the best coke around, and Falchi wanted this latest shipment to be received without issue. The issues would come after.

His consigliere, Tommaso Verro, didn’t like it. He smelled a trap, but couldn’t see where it was coming from. He didn’t trust the Americans they were paying to fake Falchi’s death, and he didn’t trust the other Americans that were likely already on Sicily trying to find Falchi. At any moment a real bullet could come streaking through the air and destroy all of their plans. The drug transfer couldn’t happen soon enough for Verro.

The exchange was set to take place fifty miles down the coast from Marsala. Normally, Falchi would have done the drop closer to Palermo, where he had complete control over the harbour and the cops, but if he was going to use this drop to his advantage, he couldn’t have his own men in on the exchange. They needed to hear the news second-hand. The proof would be irrefutable, but they’d contest it anyway, if he were close enough for them to do it.

He hated hiding, but he hated having to die more.

 

Fifteen Minutes Ago

The Mexicans were late. That wasn’t unusual, but it added an extra dose of acid to Falchi’s churning belly. He didn’t worry that the cops would come before the exchange had taken place. He did worry that the Americans would screw up the works, as they often did. He also worried that his own men would throw a wrench into his plans. He had only his consigliere, Verro, his underboss, Carlo Roncalli, and four soldiers with him. Too many others and gums would flap. His plan would be spoiled.

“The Mexicans, they are late on purpose?” Roncalli asked.

Falchi shrugged. Roncalli wasn’t aware of his side plan, of his deal with the Americans. Only Verro knew what would happen this night, as he had counselled Falchi to make the deal. The Calderone family needed a strong boss in charge. Roncalli was the best option, though he’d yet to be truly tested. He would have to find the strength to hold off the other families from absorbing the Calderone family into their own, once Falchi was gone.

Several of Falchi’s more outspoken soldiers had suggested melding with another family, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Calderone was strong and wealthy. They controlled Palermo, one of the toughest of the Cosa Nostra regions. And their membership was highest of all the Sicilian families. There was a lot of money to be made working for the Calderones.

The night was quiet. The air was still and the moon was gone. Perfect for their business. Just as Falchi was starting to think Luis Herrera had pulled a fast one, he heard a boat in the distance. It was too far for him to make it out, but it was heading directly for them. The Mexicans had the exact latitude and longitude for the meet, which was a mile off shore. Falchi had cautioned Herrera to use only one boat for the exchange. Any others would immediately be considered suspect and would be fired upon.

A drop at sea would be difficult for the Carabinieri to police effectively. Herrera hadn’t complained when Falchi had set the terms for the meet. As long as the cocaine could be moved safely and the money was exchanged and confirmed without issue, they didn’t care if the meet was held at the edge of an icy mountaintop. They delivered, they got paid, and they left.

The boat dropped its speed as it came within thirty yards of Falchi’s own boat. He saw that it was an old fishing trawler that had seen better days twenty years ago and figured it was the only boat they could get their hands on to make the transfer. The engines were powerful and that was all they really needed. The captain of the Mexican’s vessel flashed his masthead light in the agreed upon signal. Falchi ordered his captain to repeat the signal. Tossing the boat fenders over the port side, Falchi’s crew waited for the Mexican trawler to come about and toss mooring lines.

The transfer of the cocaine would be swift. Falchi already had the financial transfer ready to be sent. All he had to do was call his banker and the funds would be wired to the account that Herrera’s boss had set up. Once Herrera confirmed that the funds had been received they would quickly part ways. Before he sent the money, one of his soldiers would test the coke for purity. They’d complete a visual inspection and a taste test, but the more in depth chemical and burning tests would be done on shore. God help Herrera and his boss if they screwed him.

With the boats tied off, Herrera swung a leg over the side of his trawler and boarded Falchi’s yacht. They shook hands and then Falchi motioned for one of his soldiers to get started on his tests. The soldier slipped over the side of the boat. Falchi offered Herrera a cigar. Standing at the side of the boat, watching his man complete his tests, Falchi felt as though he had a hundred pairs of eyes on him. The Mexican had a team of ten men, Falchi a similar number. Sweat trickled down the back of his neck.

When he received the nod from his soldier, Falchi motioned for his men to start transferring the bricks to his boat. He pulled out his phone and dialled his banker. Waiting until two thirds of the product had been moved over, he gave the order.

“We have the goods. Transfer the money.”

The Mexican pulled out his phone, waiting for Falchi to tell him the transfer had been made. Falchi watched as the last of the cocaine was removed from the Mexican’s boat. When his soldier was safely back on board, he held his phone to his ear.

“Is it done?” he asked his banker.

Bullets ripped up the deck of his boat.

 

Now

The Mexicans were shooting back. Herrera had leapt across the small gap between the two boats as his men untied the mooring lines. His soldiers opened fire on Falchi’s men, guessing that they were trying to steal the product without paying for it. Herrera’s gunmen changed targets when they heard the other boats in the area.

Falchi had his phone in his hand, his banker on the line. The drugs had been transferred. They belonged to him. He could cancel the money transfer, but then he’d have the Mexicans gunning for his family. He couldn’t leave Roncalli with a mess like that. The Mexicans had proven to be even more brutal than the Mob.

“Put it through,” he yelled into the phone.

Falchi gave Herrera the signal that the money had been transferred. Herrera dialled his own phone to check, receiving confirmation quickly. He ordered his captain to leave the area immediately. His soldiers launched a tremendous volley of gunfire in their wake.

The pain in Falchi’s arm wasn’t bad. The bullet was merely a flesh wound. Something felt very wrong. He wondered if this hadn’t been a bad idea. Perhaps there had been another way. Three bullets ripped into him. His chest was a bloody mess. His entire body felt numb. He was already sinking to his knees when he felt the last insult against his flesh. It was no stronger than the sting of a bee, but it caused his world to go black instantly. The phone smashed against the deck as Falchi toppled over.

 

Venice, Italy

July 12

Falchi paced the living room of his prison. He’d woken up 36 hours after the mess in Sicily, to find he’d been transported to Venice. The wound on his arm had been stitched up. The Kevlar vest he’d been wearing had been removed and disposed of. The shots to the chest had left several nasty bruises, but that was all. There were no lingering effects from the drug that the Americans had shot him with.

He’d expected to undergo plastic surgery to alter his appearance immediately. Instead he was already a week in and the surgery hadn’t happened. There’d been no talk of meeting his doctor and choosing what he wanted altered and what he wanted to keep. He didn’t have to have major reconstructive surgery. Just enough to keep the facial recognition software used by The Network from recognizing him. Now that he was believed dead, Falchi wanted the rest done so he could get back to living his life.

The Americans had provided him with the top floor of a small building that overlooked the Grand Canal. He couldn’t go outside. If someone recognized him, it would waste all of their preparations. Food was brought to him several times per day. He wasn’t expected to cook for himself or clean up after himself. He wasn’t uncomfortable, though he’d argued in favour of having his mistress brought to him. He’d lost.

He was bored. He wasn’t used to having so little to do. He couldn’t phone anyone to tell them what actions to take with the drugs they’d purchased from the Mexicans. That was Roncalli’s problem now. He had to trust that Roncalli and the rest of his family were getting the job done. And he had to hope that Raffaele Ranieri wasn’t already trying to move in on his operation.

Ranieri was head of the Bastianoni family and for the past three years he’d been trying to meld smaller family’s into his. More family members would make him stronger, but he still wouldn’t be as strong as the Calderones. Not unless he managed to meld all of the smaller families into one. Falchi didn’t see that happening. The head of a smaller family would lose his position with the merger and no boss wanted that. So far, mergers were determined via a vote amongst the members. None had agreed as yet, but several of the votes had been quite close. Still, the Calderone family had nearly three times the number of family members as the Bastianoni family.

A knock at the door brought Falchi to the windows at the front of the house. Anyone begging entrance could be seen from the window off the living room. They had to be buzzed into the building, unless the door was held open for them. Leaning out the window, Falchi spotted Verro below. Pressing the button to release the lower door, he turned the lock on the apartment door and waited for his friend to climb the three flights. He’d already poured Verro a glass of wine and set it next to an empty plate on the table. After exchanging cheek kisses and a warm embrace, the two men sat at the table and filled their plates with meat, cheese, and bread.

“They’re taking your death hard,” Verro said.

Falchi snorted. “Not all of them, I would imagine.”

Touching his glass of wine to Falchi’s, Verro savoured the first sip before acknowledging Falchi’s comment. “It’s true that Borelli is close to rejoicing, but he doesn’t dare do it around the twins. Roncalli has done well taking over the details of the shipment.”

Falchi sighed, wishing for half a second that he could return from the dead and see to his regular duties. That avenue wasn’t open to him, but he was pleased to hear that Roncalli had stepped up and embraced running the family. There would be a mourning period and then the family would give Roncalli a few months before a vote would be taken to determine if he was an adequate leader or if he needed to be replaced. Two more shipments of cocaine would be exchanged with the Mexicans in that time. It would be enough to prove that Roncalli had the experience and the skill to head the family. Or it would prove that he didn’t.

“How do the twins feel about Roncalli?”

Verro shrugged. “They’re happiest when they get to distribute the goods and can intimidate or kill anyone who threatens the welfare of those connected to the family. Roncalli recognizes this and uses their talents wisely.”

Falchi nodded absently. If the family decided against Roncalli, then one of the three capos would be considered for boss. Of the three, Alessio was the most capable. Angelo was a thug, though he was a thinking one. Borelli wanted to merge all the families of Sicily and take over the world’s drug trade. The idea was borderline suicidal, not to mention egomaniacal. Borelli didn’t have the chops to run the Calderones, never mind a family amalgamated from all other mob families. If a merger ever happened, Borelli would not be the man leading it.

“Keep an eye on Borelli,” Falchi ordered. “If anyone will try to make Roncalli appear incompetent, it will be him.”

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