Franco Tagliatela, known by his associates as Il Professore, trembled with effort as he pulled out the heavy dining chair and eased himself down. His frailty was not just an inconvenience—his tremors were sometimes so bad that he could now barely pour himself a scotch—his physical decline posed other, greater problems. While his thin outer shell belied his competence, and he was not yet ready to relinquish power, his authority was beginning to wane. That was why he’d arranged the feast tonight, so that he and the inner cell of La Famiglia, could discuss the problem of Matteo.
Il Professore surveyed the set table in front of him. It was a long rectangular table covered in gingham cloth, and two bottles of Cutty Sark and a decanter of imported Italian wine awaited the guests. Where once Il Professore would have been surer of these people who were closest to him, he now had no idea how they would respond to the problem of Matteo. He worried for his family. Five of his daughters were married, except for the youngest, and their futures would be at stake unless he could secure the cell. They’d lived good lives, and he wanted the affluence to continue. Here in the new world, they’d never had to deal with that stronzo, that turd, Mussolini, and he’d been fortunate enough to watch some of his grandchildren grow. It was 1962, and he never thought he’d see the day. But now that he’d reached old age, he wanted to live happily for many more years to come.
Il Professore turned to the door. A gust of bitter Melbourne air rushed in; his first guest had arrived.
The man who’d entered removed his coat and hat, revealing vivid orange hair. Although he was almost as old as his host, his signature hair had lost none of its colour, though it was wiry and thin at his age. The man was known as Aussie Bob, presumably of Italian decent but named thus for his hair colour and because he’d been in Australia the longest. His earliest memories were of being a street kid taken in by Frank Tagliatela’s father. He’d become a surrogate son and brother and had helped the Tagliatela clan seize control of Melbourne. To this day, Aussie Bob was known for his street smarts and connections. Aware of the gravity of the evening’s subject he kissed his host warmly on each cheek, and hoped they would put their efforts together as always, and get through it successfully.
Aldo and Giovanni arrived next. The two men were dressed impressively, though neither of them had wives to dress them. Aldo’s riches showed in his ostentatious taste which included a silk vest and chunks of gold on his fingers. He was as rich as the entire cell put together thanks to his skills in business, and performed the role of family treasurer.
The younger Giovanni was a playboy and eager to prove himself as astute in business as his older cousin. And like Aldo, he believed that the mafia needed to expand their enterprises beyond their usual markets into other industries. He’d set up a modelling agency and was exploring sly grog as a possible venture.
The two men greeted the host with reverent kisses.
Another gust of icy wind heralded a new arrival. Vincenzo strutted towards them with the proud walk of a Tagliatela. Although he had married into the family, he had taken the family name, and considered himself more of a son than a son-in-law. Married to Il Professore’s oldest daughter, Vincenzo was considered by all next in line when it came time for the Don to pass his buck. But behind his arrogant strut was an aggressive fear. He feared disaster if the old man was left in control of making the decision. The old man was unable to handle this mess with Matteo and that could jeopardise the wealth and power of the entire family. He mustered the strength to suppress his discontent as he reverently kissed the host, and the last guest came through the door.
Where all the men wore suits of grey and black, Salvatore’s matte black suit stood out as altogether darker, suave and formidable. In his role as commission agent at the markets, his responsibility was to inspire intimidation and compliance. Black attire and a shadowy demeanour helped with that. But it also helped in his dealings with La Famiglia. Making himself remote and mysterious protected him; he was too opaque to play games with, confide in or betray. But this evening his mystique didn’t work in his favour, for his special connection to Matteo could make him the target of a long and possibly violent interrogation. He hoped for the best.
When the guests were seated and each poured a drink, Il Professore spoke.