All of the scenes from “Lonesome Cove” I publish now are obviously meant to provoke a mad rush to purchase the novel when it comes out for the Kindle in April and later in the fall in paperback. But with that said, I also hope to gain some comments from my readers… so pretty please with sugar on, please do send me some comments, if only to encourage me to publish a few more scenes.
This is actually the second scene in LC, and sets up the scene I published in my previous post:
Cathy was off to work at six on Monday morning. Spike and I slept in; I was going to drive down to speak with Gianni Lupo at his home on Sanibel Island in the afternoon. Lupo owned a four bedroom, three-bath place right at the beach line, off Gulf Pines Lane.
The home was built in the 1950’s, and enclosed by a light green, six foot tall breezeblock wall, with a wrought iron electric gate. A smaller gate in the middle of the seaward wall gave access to the beach. The plot was a generous half-acre in size, with nice landscaping installed by the original owner who was somebody in the movies during the 1940’s.
Lupo had an elderly Austrian couple living on the grounds. The husband took care of the maintenance and grounds while the wife did the cooking and housekeeping. Things got done slowly but well, and that’s all that mattered to Gianni Lupo. Banana trees, Bird-of-Paradise, ferns, palms on an artificial mound in a sunny spot on the side of the house, and a few night blooming jasmine surrounded the home and dotted the grounds. The rear of the property held two large old spreading oaks to provide shade in the heat of the day.
Lupo purchased the property in the early 1980’s and hired the Austrians to take care of the place. Two years later he was arrested, tried and found guilty in a Miami court on two counts of murder for hire. Only a plea bargain and testimony against his bosses in the mob kept him off death row. The plea bargain also allowed him to keep his property and the money in his bank account, but this was never made public.
One o’clock in the afternoon saw me on the causeway to Sanibel, which meant that I should be just in time for lunch. The request for a meeting was not unusual with new clients, but I will admit that I was more than a little wary. I put those feelings down to my knowledge of the man’s background as a Mob enforcer.
My life in law enforcement carried with it a certain repugnance to take on the responsibility for protecting such a man, but it meant easy work for my teams, and the income wouldn’t hurt my bottom line. But recent experience with a few of my “High Visibility” clients put me on edge.
Sanibel Island is a great place to live and to visit, but it does have a few drawbacks for the residents. During the winter months the population of Sanibel jumps from six thousand to over twenty thousand. Getting around on the island can be trying when the tourists are in town. Public parking is expensive, but that only matters if you can find a place to park.
Once on the island I stayed on Periwinkle Way until it turned into the Sanibel-Captiva road. Another few minutes saw me turning left onto Gulf Pines drive and the short trip to Lupo’s front gate. A quick call to Steve Bennett, the site manager in the house, let him know I was approaching the gate.
One of the many benefits to living in a place like Sanibel Island is the weather. Even during the winter months the temperature during the day can climb into the high seventies, and it rarely drops below the fifties at night. Lupo chose to eat his mid-day meal on his rear patio, surrounded by greenery, with a pleasant sea breeze ruffling the palms.
He stood to greet me as I walked through the living room and stepped onto the patio. Lupo was a small man; not much over five feet, and thin, with gray hair cut short and a fringe of mustache on his lip. He was still pale from his many years behind bars. Despite the warm weather he was wearing socks with his sandals, khaki slacks, and a long sleeved white shirt under a light tan jacket.
Blackened grouper, Louisiana dirty rice, a garden salad sprinkled with Gorgonzola cheese and ice cold beer made for a pleasant lunch. We stayed away from any business and simply chatted, sharing pleasantries while we ate. Two of the three guards on duty patrolled the grounds while the third stayed on the patio behind the client.
“I was sorry to hear that your manager was murdered, Mr. Rankin,” Lupo said. “Mr. Weeks struck me as a very competent man.”
During my last lunch with Charley Weeks before his murder, we had discussed the contract proposal with Gianni Lupo. I told Charley go ahead with the deal, assuming the old mobster would want to live out the remainder of his life in peace and quiet. Charley was shot and killed later that day.
He must have read my mind, because he said, “I hope they go away for a very long time.”
“Thank you, Mr. Lupo. So what can I do for you?” The housekeeper came out with the coffee service, and both Lupo and I accepted cups.
“My granddaughter, Nicola Gianuzzi. I haven’t seen her since I was sent away. She was only twelve years old, then. I got letters from her while I was in prison. I still have them. Her mama, my daughter Rosa, kept me up to date on what Nikki was doing. When she reached eighteen, she joined the army.
“She had some skill they wanted, I don’t know what. Languages, maybe, or something to do with computers. They offered her a full scholarship, and she jumped at it. I told her mama I could pay Nikki’s college fees, but the girl refused to take it; I never learned why. Maybe she just wanted to do things her way. Young people are like that today.”
That was all very interesting, but it didn’t answer my question. So I repeated it. “So what do you need from me?”
“I got a call from Nikki on Thursday morning of the week I was released from prison. She was in Miami, and just called to say she was driving up to see me.” The bleak look on his face told me everything I needed to know. “She never got here, and I haven’t heard from her since that call. Find out what happened to my granddaughter, Mr. Rankin. My wife, Isabella, died of cancer three years after I was sent up. My daughter and her husband, Angelo, died in a car accident while I was behind bars. That girl is all the family I have left.”
Lupo’s words struck a chord in me, but I was hesitant to take on his request. Call me gun shy if you want; I am, and with good reason. “When and where did that accident happen, Mr. Lupo?
“December twenty-third, in 2000. Nikki was already in the army. Rosa and her husband were living in Trenton, and were driving to his family home in Queens for the holidays. They hit a patch of ice on the freeway.”
“Do you have an address for your granddaughter, Mr. Lupo, or a phone number?”
He dropped his head; his voice got small and quiet. He gave me the phone number, which went into the notes I was taking. He continued, “I tried calling her back later that night. I was worried she might have gotten lost, or maybe her car broke down somewhere. I’ve tried her number nearly every day since. For the first few days her phone went to voice mail and after that all I got was an out of service message. I never had an address for her.”
I wondered about that last. “When did you write her last? What address did you use?”
“She has a post office box in Miami. I never had an address for her,” he replied.
“Where was she working, then? You could call her employer, see what they know.”
“She’s still in the Army, but she never told me where she was stationed. I don’t know what she does, Mr. Rankin.”
“Have you tried the Armed Forces Locator? Maybe she was put on an emergency deployment and sent overseas?”
I was starting to wonder about this girl. Girl? His granddaughter was thirty-seven years old. She’d been in the Army for thirteen years now, doing something the old man knew nothing about. Hell, he didn’t even know where she lived. “Do you have a recent photograph of her?”
He shook his head. “No, just a few baby pictures her mama sent me.”
“Where was she born?”
“Trenton, New Jersey, or maybe in Queens, New York. I think Rosa and Angelo were living in Trenton then, but I can’t be sure.”
“Have you reported her missing? Did you call the cops in Miami?”
“The sergeant I spoke to in the Dade County police said she was a grown woman so I would have to wait forty-eight hours before I could report her as a missing person. If I haven’t heard from her in that time they’d send a patrol car around to her house or apartment.” He paused for a second and then added, “But I don’t got an address for her.”
Gianni Lupo wasn’t exactly a wellspring of information about his granddaughter. “I’ll look into this, but I have to bill you for the time and expenses. No promises, Mr. Lupo.”
“I understand,” he said. “Anything is better than not knowing.”
We stood and shook again. Then I left for the trip back to Clearwater. It was close to seven and growing dark before I got back to the marina. Normally, Sanibel is about a three and half hour drive from Clearwater, but I hit rush hour traffic when I got to the causeway to the mainland at the outskirts of Ft. Meyers, and in Tampa; the entire trip home was a nightmare.
It put me in a foul mood. Everything about the day put me in a foul mood. Right as I slipped the Suburban into my parking place near the marina office my cell phone rang.
“Yeah,” I said, none too happily. When my cell rings it can only mean more problems.
“What’s your problem, Rankin?” Cathy asked sharply.
“Sorry. Hope your day was better than mine. I should never have gone to Sanibel in the first place. Traffic was lousy the whole way back to the marina.”
“Poor baby,” she said as I got out and slammed the door to the Suburban. “What did Lupo want?”
“He wants me to find his granddaughter.” I was walking down to the dock, talking with Cathy and trying to slip my sunglasses into my jacket pocket at the same time. I managed it, somehow.
“Why does this sound so familiar?”
“Because it is. The story is much different, though. She’s in the Army; been in the army nearly twelve years. She called the day she planned to drive up to visit him the week he was released. Only she never got there.” Then I changed the subject. “Where are you?”
“At my dad’s. He’s got some old family friends over, and I’m cooking dinner. Want to come?”
Frankly, no, I don’t. “Sorry, I can’t. It’s the start of the week and I’ve still got to touch base with Cecelia and Tommy.” I had no intention of calling Cecelia or Tommy. I guess you’d call that a white lie.
She laughed. “And feed the cat and maybe trim your toenails, blah, blah, blah. I didn’t think you would. I’ll see you later tonight. Maybe you’ll work your way out of that lousy mood by then.”
Spike was waiting for me as I stepped aboard, wrapping himself around my ankles as I made my slow way to the accommodations hatch. I slipped the cell phone into my jacket pocket, got the hatch unlocked and damn near tripped over Spike as he slipped between my feet on his way into the galley.
I managed not to curse at him, barely.