Excerpt for Wiser Guys: La Famiglia Di Mostri Book Two by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Wiser Guys

Copyright D.R. Perry, 2017

All Rights Reserved

This is a work of fiction with themes and language intended for audiences sixteen and up. All characters depicted are my own creations, though their views and mine don’t always intersect. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. Not the type of “unfortunate coincidence” Giacomo Bianco means when someone gets hurt, either.

Cover Design by: James Ruggiero

Historical Consultant: Jared Leitzel

First Edition

The stock market crashes, threatening to bring Plymouth’s secret magical “Wise” families down with it. When Bill and Millie’s precognitive Uncle Finn threatens to usurp their father and take control of all the Wise families, the twins realize they must stop him.

Bill’s telepathic powers and ambition aren’t enough to outmaneuver his uncle, even with help from his sister and their similarly powered friends. Uncle Finn has an alliance with the Irish Mob up in Boston. Bill needs connections and there’s only one place to do that in this town.

The Plymouth Supper Club hides hooch and rumrunners like a backdrop covers warehouse walls on Poverty Row. Bill is ready to jump in with both feet but Millie wants out of this town, not a piece of its action. Can they wise up together or will the prospect of criminal life drive their friends and family apart?

Chapter One

A rattle, a bang, and a thud came from the kitchen. Bill and Millie Chiavo slapped their rummy hands face-down on the table almost in unison. They jumped up at the same time too, but Millie made it to the door before Bill even though he was closer. She was faster than Bill at everything. He knew it was to make up for the fact that he’d arrived on this earth two and a half minutes before she did.

Their mother sat with her back against the icebox on the floor with an open mouth and wider eyes, clutching the Boston Globe’s morning edition to her chest. Millie stepped over the puddle of hot water and the pot it had sloshed out of to shut off the stove. Bill winced as her toe made contact with the puddle. She didn’t flinch even though he knew she was already getting a blister.

“Mom, get up.” Bill held his hand out to the woman on the floor. She looked up at him and blinked, leaking tears from the corners of her eyes. Mom didn’t take his hand, but stood and stepped away from the stove.

“What happened?” Millie had already refilled the pot with water from the tap. She started picking vegetables up off the floor. “These potatoes are probably still edible, but the peas not so much. Mama?” Bill usually got annoyed when Millie called their mother that, but he was worried enough to brush it off. “Mom. What is it?”

“Bad news.” Mom spread the paper out on the table with fluttering hands. “Bad for us, and so many more. It’s going to change this town. America, too. Harder times are here again.”

Bill glanced at Millie, trying to get a look at her face. She was blocking him, and he wanted to know if she thought this was something Mom had Seen or just a case of the vapors. His twin was occupied chasing peas and carrots around the floor with a broom and dustpan. He peered at the headline instead of helping. All the same, Bill would insist he was as good a brother as the day was long.

“Margin Account Dumping Brings Stock Crash,” Bill read aloud. He glanced at his mother again. Her gaze rested on the paper’s date, October 24th, but remained unfocused. She might have gotten one of the visions her partial Wisdom hit her with sometimes. The brush-tap of sweeping stopped and the dustpan clattered against the rim of the bin.

“But they don’t mean our stocks, right Mom?” Millie put her free hand on one of their mother’s shoulders.

“Your father would know for certain,” said Mom. “We were in trouble already, hadn’t lost everything earlier this week, but now—” Their mother sighed, one hand dropping to the table beside the paper. “Who knows?”

This time, Millie locked eyes with Bill. Neither of them had come into any Mind Wisdom yet, so they couldn’t do any of the things Dad had taught Bill about. Still, they’d always had more of a sense of each other than mundane twins. Bill and Millie didn’t need to hop minds or send words at each other to agree that their mother had Seen something other people without some kind of Wisdom could not.

“Here comes my brother,” said Mom. “Go to the front door and let your Uncle Finn in, William.” She patted her hair, then tucked a stray strand behind one ear. “Please.”

“Yes, Mom.” Bill walked out of the kitchen and down the hall past the parlor, even though there’d been no knock at the door.

Uncle Finn was Sight Wise, having come into the full set of his abilities when he was seventeen. He used to tell stories, back before he’d become a shut-in, about the things his Sight showed him. He also used to smile like a person instead of a shark.

It wasn’t until they were six that his Sight eroded his morals enough for the twins and all the other Wise children to fear him. He’d Seen the soldier at the door a week before he came with the Army’s letter of condolence. He’d smiled while telling her that their baby brother Tim had died at the Battle of Sambres in the Great War.

Bill knew Uncle Finn made Millie just as nervous as him. She stood at the stove, adding stock and seasonings to the pot of future soup with a stiff back and rigid arms. Easy for her. She wouldn’t have to answer the door for their Uncle. Finn could choose to See a future thread leading from any person who spoke the wrong way to him.

“Millicent.” Mother stood and smoothed her skirt. “Put some tea on, please.”

Bill heard his sister start filling the teakettle as he left the kitchen. Millie would have to be around Finn after all, a thought that made Bill uneasy. Mother’s brief flashes of Sight came from objects and only when she wasn’t trying to look at the future. She couldn’t direct them either, for some convoluted reason Bill didn’t understand.

That was the way partial Wisdom worked. Its limitations were all in the scope of power, not backlashes like the fully Wise had to deal with. Uncle Finn’s arrival could come any time in the next five minutes or five hours.

A floorboard creaked out on the front porchr. Someone stood on the porch, but it wasn’t Uncle Finn. That floorboard noise was a signal. There was only one person besides his sister who used that squeaky old board to communicate. He opened the door.

“Gil.” Bill smiled at his best friend.

“Hey-o, Billy-o.” Gilbert grinned back. Bill loved that grin.

“Much as I’m happy to see you, this is a bad time.” Bill wrinkled his nose. “We’re expecting someone else.”

“I know it’s not the best of times.” Gilbert cracked a grin at his own joke. “But is it the worst of times?”

“Maybe.” Bill wanted to hold the door open and let his best friend in, but didn’t want Gil’s wit and natural chattiness to get him into trouble. “Mother Saw something bad and then something worse. Uncle Finn’s on his way over here.”

Gilbert was from a Wise family too, so he’d learned to hear all those capital letters. With his sister and Gil, it always felt like a cool secret code instead of a way to keep separate from the mundanes.

“Jeepers Creepers. What’d she touch?” They didn’t have Sight in Gilbert’s family, but he knew the basics, just like every kid in this generation of Plymouth’s Wise.

“The Boston Globe.”

“Ouch. I read it earlier. That market crash is something to take seriously then? Dad’s back home laughing with Mom about it, making paper boats out of the front page and calling them the SS Chicken Little.” Gilbert and his whole family tended to take most things lightly. It came with the territory for Wood Wise, whose talents let them nurture, grow, and get information from any type of flora.

The backlash from using their Wisdom to revive dead plants was a dizzy sort of forgetfulness. They tried to make as many good memories as possible because they’d have no control over which ones they lost.

“Go home and tell him to re-name those boats Titanic and Lusitania. Mom dropped a boiling soup pot just because she touched the front page.”

“Wow. Must be a doozie, then.” Gil turned to leave, then stopped and glanced back over his shoulder. “Put the left curtain down when you want me to come back.”

“Will do.” Bill watched Gilbert go down the walk. His friend raised a hand in a gesture of farewell without looking back again, then crossed the street to his house without looking both ways. Typical. Bill waited at the door until Gilbert went inside. He thought again about declaring his feelings, but pushed the idea from his mind. Too much was going on to think much about something like that, let alone act on it.

Bill stepped back from the door so he could swing it shut. Before he did, a shiny bottle-green roadster he’d never seen before came slowly up the street, coming to a stop right in front of the house. The driver carried a wiry strength on his medium frame and wore a tan suit punctuated by black accents. The man nobody wanted to see approached the house.

“Hey, little shaver.” He tipped the brim of the tan trilby perched atop his head of salt-and-pepper hair. “I already knew my sister and her dago family would be expecting me. Bet your piggy bank there’s tea on. Let me in, little pal.”

Bill stepped aside without speaking and of course, his uncle dropped him a wink. All he could think about was the story of how wolf blew all those houses down. As if on cue, the kettle screamed out in a protest Bill couldn’t give voice to. The whole morning had unwound like a reel of good news for people who like bad news. The fact of Uncle Finn’s happy camper demeanor might just be the worst of the lot.

Chapter Two

Millie wished she could be invisible and serve tea from the tray. She thought maybe she’d better wish for inaudibility also, under the circumstances. Uncle Finn got more dangerous the more someone talked to him. Millie had gotten herself in trouble with him before by running her mouth.

Dad took a serious risk even letting their uncle into the house, which was why she’d agreed to stay and play tea hostess. One way to avoid Finn’s Sight was by answering all of his questions as though speaking to someone else. Mom was still reeling from the morning’s visions and Bill had run interference the last time Finn paid a visit. Millie was up but felt like Casey at the bat after he’d struck out.

“Ownership of this house reverts to me if you can’t pay the taxes on all of the property,” said Finn. He leaned forward menacingly in his heat, chest puffing out like one of Rachel’s roosters.

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law, Millicent, did you know that?” Dad put his hand over his mouth as though stifling a yawn. Even though his frail frame rested in a nest of blankets, she still thought him more powerful than Uncle Finn. All the Wise families in town knew it, too.

“The will is in my possession and you you’re walking a thin line with the finances after today, Giuseppe. Still, I’m willing to let my sister stay here after I move in. I’ve got deals in the works with people from Boston. People who, by rights, would have had their way back in 1922 if you hadn’t interfered.” Finn puffed his cigar. “You know my terms.”

“It’s unfortunate, Millie, that your Uncle does not recall the reasons I can’t agree to them.” Dad took the cup of hot tea Millie held out to him, wrinkled hands curled around it like a pair of crispy brown autumn leaves. She was glad she’d only filled it half way as she watched the surface of the liquid ripple with the tremors that plagued him.

“You’ve spent sixteen years teaching your boy, time you could have spent avoiding this situation instead,” said Finn.

“Your Uncle knew precisely how and why I wouldn’t avoid it. He’s known every move I’d make since the night we met but never why.” A grin stretched across Father’s face. He closed his mouth over a cough, then sipped the tea. “And I’ve managed to help others surprise him because of it.”

“Enlighten me then,” said Uncle Finn. His tea cup had remained on the tray since Millie poured it, but he picked it up now and took a sip. He never drank or ate anything until someone else tasted it first. Over the years, her uncle had collected irrational fears like other men collected stamps or coins. His obsessions had grown harsh and inhumane, making him expect the worst from everyone else in the process. Only objects he desired were immune from his judgment. Such was the cost of his Sight.

Dad didn’t speak, just shook his head and grinned again. A draft from somewhere stirred the fine wisps of white hair that still sparsely graced his skull. She’d known her whole life that rapid aging was the cost of altering memories with Mind Wisdom, but it still seemed more harsh a penalty than any other family’s. Anyone meeting Father for the first time today might guess his age at over seventy. He had turned thirty-five this past September.

“The tea is especially soothing today, Millicent. Thank you.” Millie heard a squeaking sound as Uncle Finn ground his teeth. Father’s grin turned into a smile. Millie gasped a moment before her Uncle’s teacup shattered in his grip.

“The winds of change are whipping up a storm here in Plymouth. You’re directly in its path.” Uncle Finn brushed shards of china from his hands casually, as though crushing other peoples’ dinnerware was an everyday thing for him. The sharp bits had barely scuffed his callused hands. “My Sight advises you to get out of town and my way as soon as possible. You waste time, Giuseppe.”

“One man’s waste is another man’s want. The grass is always greener. Having is overrated. The best things in life are free, but freedom isn’t.” Another way around Finn’s Sight was to use quotes or adages. Father’s stubborn optimism beamed through the room like a sunrise. Millie couldn’t help it. She chuckled, then covered her mouth with both hands.

“What’s so funny?” Uncle Finn punctuated his words with the three steps he took to stand in her face. This time, Millie didn’t think of a rooster. Finn snarled like a cornered badger. A sort of miasma clung around her Uncle that reminded her of a smell, though it nothing so physical. That not-scent got stronger just as his hand closed around her wrist.

“Mr. Chiavo, please pardon me.” A familiar feminine voice came from the hallway just over her left shoulder. Rachel Howe, Millie’s closest female friend. “I’ve brought the vegetables and would like Miss Millie’s help bringing them in.”

“Go, Miss Millie,” mocked Uncle Finn. “Go and help your farm girl friend. You’ll need that kind of work experience soon enough when I own and run your house and this town. The Italians have controlled it long enough.” His lips twisted into a cruel smile, and he let go of her wrist.

Millie frowned down at the reddening imprint his fingers had left on her skin. She wanted desperately to get away from her uncle, but didn’t want to leave Father alone with him. She couldn’t think and hesitated instead of leaving with Rachel.

“Don’t worry, Millicent. Your Uncle will show himself out, I’m sure. It’s been a lovely tea, but for now this weary old man needs a nap.”

Uncle Finn lingered, looming between Millie and her father until Bill’s footsteps sounded on the stairs. “This isn’t over, Giuseppe. I’ll be back with my friends and you won’t like the kind of meeting they’ll want to have with you.”

“That sounds lovely, my old friend.” Father gently placed his tea cup on the tray, masterfully deflecting both Finn’s threats and his Sight. He’d replied in the third possible evasive manner, by fashioning his words in response to something Finn hadn’t actually said. “Until then.”

Millie was almost to the kitchen when the door slammed behind her uncle. She jumped, then choked out a floodgate-opening sob. Rachel put her arm around Millie’s shoulder, making concerned and comforting noises. Millie wondered why she got the impression that Rachel was confused but just as frightened as she was herself. That only ever happened with Bill before.

“There’s a dead teacup all over the floor in there. What happened?” asked Bill. He followed the girls into the kitchen.

Millie waited until the door shut to answer him. “He’s trying to get Father to agree to whatever it is he keeps asking for again. He’s got friends now, from Boston even, and we apparently don’t. According to him, we’ve got no money, either. Father fended him off as usual, but he took it much harder than the last time.”

“I’ll say,” said Rachel. “Last time he didn’t dare lay a finger on you.”

“Rachel!” Millie couldn’t believe her friend would spilled the beans like that. Usually Rachel kept secrets like dragons hoarded gold.

“He did what?” The outrage in Bill’s voice sounded so similar to Uncle Finn’s that Millie went weak in the knees. She managed to get to one of the chairs before ending up on the floor like Mom had this morning, sans visions.

“He had her by the wrist,” said Rachel. Millie’s trust in her was running out like the sand in the egg timer they kept on the shelf above the stove. Rachel blushed, too. Good. She should be embarrassed while ratting someone out. “Look, there’s even a bruise.”

Millie glanced down and sure enough there was a thumb-shaped purple mark on the inside of her left wrist.

“Oh please.” She rolled her eyes. “I’ve had worse falling out of trees a few years ago. We should go and clean up that cup before Dad tries to and has a fall.”

“Let me see it.” Bill leaned over to get a better look at the most unimpressive bruise in New England. While he did, his arm brushed in passing against Rachel’s bosom. The blush deepened until her skin was a shade that made her barely remembered Algonquian ancestry unmistakable. Millie immediately understood that Rachel’s blushing had been from an embarrassment unrelated to ratting out a friend.

Bill didn’t even notice what had happened, or Rachel’s reaction. He never noticed Rachel the way almost all the other boys their age did. A tap came from behind her on one of the glass panes in the side door. Bill glanced up and his face blossomed in a sunrise smile the way Father’s did. Rachel made a small gasp and started to smile back. Then she followed Bill’s gaze and cast her eyes toward the floor.

A rush of cold air came in the door with a male voice chiming a greeting they’d used since they were old enough to cross the street together.

Ciao bella,” said Gilbert.

Bill had smiled at Gil Elmwood. Of course. Bill must have been upstairs closing the curtain to let their friend know Uncle Finn had left the building.

“Nice try but ugh, your accent.” Bill responded with their old childhood countersign, a gleam in her brother’s eye. He gazed at Gilbert the way young men did at her sometimes.

“I’ll go and look in on your father.” Rachel took the broom and dustpan off their hook next to the pantry. “Do some sweeping, too.”

“Thanks, Rachel,” said Millie.

Bill barely acknowledged she’d left the room, too occupied with filling Gilbert in on the Uncle Finn report. She got up to snag and carry bushels of turnips, potatoes, and onions down to the root cellar while they talked. When she finished, Millie went back toward the table to sit down.

“Go help Rachel finish up in there and bring her back,” said Gilbert. “She should hear this. I should probably go down the street for Theo or Sarah, too. This is big, not to mention secret.”

“If it’s so hush hush, we should probably talk about it at Theo’s,” Millie said. “I’m not trying to be difficult, but if Dad’s awake, nothing’s hidden in this house.”

“Oops, forgot.” Gilbert tapped his temple. He was more absent-minded than he used to be before his Wisdom had come in. “Thanks for pointing that out.”

Rachel came back in with a rattling paper bag as well as the broom and dust pan.

“It’s all swept up. Your father said he’d like to spend some time reading in the parlor, so I also fetched his book.” She peered at the empty space by the door. “Where’d the vegetables go?”

“I put them downstairs,” Millie took her coat off the hook by the door. “We’re going to Theo’s. Come along, okay?”

Rachel and Bill got their coats, and they headed out into the chilly morning air.

Chapter Three

Theodore and Sarah Webster lived in a house almost as old as the Chiavo’s, but smaller and shabbier. Fire Wise had talents and temperament that tended to lose money rather than gain it in this day and age. Sight could help predict future events. Mind-reading could help negotiate sales and contracts. Fire just burned things. Only smithing was a viable profession for them and that had gone by the wayside since the rise of industrialization and the automobile. Bill felt sorry for them.

Theo’s younger sister Sarah came around the side of the house before they knocked on the door. She wore her typically distracted expression and a faded mustard-colored woolen dress a size too big for her. Sarah avoided paying much attention to people in general. Her preference was for graphs, equations, and numbers.

Sarah Webster should have been a grade behind the others but her brains had earned her early advancement. The only reason Sarah hadn’t graduated already was that they had to mail her arithmetic work out to a Professor at Radcliffe. The Primary School teachers in Plymouth weren’t up to the challenge of reading her papers on Gaussian curves or imaginary numbers.

“Oh, hello,” said Sarah. “Mama can’t have any guests inside the house. Pop said it’s better if she cools off before seeing anyone else today. Theo and I have been back in the old smithy since dawn if you want to join us.” She turned and went back the way she’d come. Bill followed her, knowing the rest would go where he went.

The old smithy sat to the west of the house and slightly behind it. Mr. Webster talked every winter about converting it into more living space, but never got around to it. The floor was dirt, no weeds or plants grew around it thanks to the Elmwoods. Its walls were brick and the chimney fieldstone. Though no fire burned in the furnace it seemed warm when they went inside. Whatever upset Mrs. Webster had also angered Theo. He was the first of them to gain his full Wisdom.

Theo leaned on the anvil in front of the furnace with his back to the door and sighed. “Go away, Sarah.”

“Everyone came over, though. I think you should talk to them about it.” Sarah turned her back, beginning to head past the others and out the door. “Anyway, I’ll see you later.”

“If I’m staying, so are you, Sarah. And what do you mean by everyone?” Theo turned around. He scanned Bill’s and Gilbert’s faces with an expression that would have seemed at home on a sleepy lion, but that stopped when he saw Millie and Rachel. Both sides of his mouth still turned slightly downward in a moody pout, but his eyes crinkled at the corners. He stood up straight to give the full effect of his stature and broad-shouldered physique. “I’d say good morning, ladies, but it’s been no such thing.”

Bill was used to watching his sister and just about any other woman simper around Theo Webster. You could tell by looking at him that he came from a line of blacksmiths, but since that wasn’t the family business anymore, he had none of the burns or scars that usually came with that profession. He’d also gotten his mother’s pale skin and full lips, but those had gone to Sarah instead, freckles and all.

Theo’s hair was almost black with hints of red when he was in direct sunlight. The man could have posed for a classical painting, but Bill always wondered why he felt like the only person put off by Theo’s broody persona. Sarah had the same taciturn disposition and nothing like the same popularity. The most important thing he’d learned from the Websters was the remarkable advantage of beauty on opinion.

“So, which did you get from Finn Mullins this morning? A visit or just a letter?” Gilbert kept his tone casual and more light-hearted than usual, but the air warmed all the same.

“If you came to mock our troubles with that bottom-feeder—” All hints of friendliness fled from Theo’s voice.

“Commiserate, is more like it,” said Bill. “He was at our house just now, threatening us with my grandfather’s will and his Boston friends. Gilbert had something to tell us, but wanted to wait until we were all together.”

“Fine, Gil,” said Theo. “Do what Elmwoods do best. Talk.”

“Well, like Billy-o said, Mullins went to his house this morning. Drove up in a mint new roadster, had on his Sunday Best. Got in a property rights argument with Mr. C, then scared our Millie half out of her gourd by doing this.” Gilbert pointed at Millie’s left arm until she rolled her eyes and held her hand palm up. Then she winced, eyes wide.

“That seedy, yellow-bellied, son of a—” The air got hotter, chokingly so, as Theo moved to get a closer look at Millie’s wrist. The mark had swelled up and darkened until it resembled a purple robin’s egg. And she’d tried to brush it off as nothing, of course. Typical.

“She needs cold, not heat,” said Sarah. She stepped between her brother and Millie, looking Theo in the eyes. Sarah was a mousy slip of a girl, timid most of the time except where her temperamental brother was concerned. Up until now, Bill had always thought it was because she knew Theo could never hurt his own sister, but he understood better now. It was the other way around. He saw what she must have always known, that Theo needed protecting from his own temper, especially with full Wisdom. “Make the temperature go the other way, Theo, like Mother taught you.”

“You’re right, Sare.” Theo closed his eyes, then took a deep breath. As he exhaled, he counted to ten. The heat in the smithy went back to something more sensible on a late October morning. “Let me see that bruise, Millie.”

“Okay,” said Millie. Her shoulders tightened and hunched the way they always did when she got nervous, but she held her arm out toward him anyway. He put one hand under it and held the other one just above the bruise. They both smiled down at her arm and her hands. “Oh! Cold!” She laughed.

“Better?” Theo asked. He looked up from her hands as he spoke, and their eyes met. Millie nodded, dark brown curls bouncing around her sparkling blue eyes. Blotchy patches of crimson bloomed on Theo’s neck and he pulled his hands away from Millie’s arm. Bill knew what that kind of attraction looked like, but up until now he hadn’t seen it directed at his own sister. He suddenly needed to divert attention away from that little exchange. He wasn’t sure why it made him uncomfortable.

“Now that everyone’s a little bit cooler, let’s finish talking about my uncle,” said Bill. “Gilbert?”

“Right.” Gilbert nodded. “Finn Mullins didn’t grace my house with a visit. We’d had a letter. Some of you know and some of you don’t. The houses on this street are owned by the families that live in them. But the land is on the deed that goes with the Chiavo place. Technically, everyone on this street leases the land, even though Giuseppe set the rent at zero dollars. So if Mullins gets his hooks into that Chiavo property, he can price all of us out by increasing the rent. We’ll be over a barrel. And if his friends from Boston horn in here, Finn will have us working for them and paying for the privilege.”

“We’re not on your street,” said Rachel. “How does this affect us?”

“Your family’s farm isn’t part of the parcel,” said Gilbert. “But you know how my mother’s your oldest sister? She’s got her heart set on moving back in there now that she might have to pay rent.”

Rachel’s mouth dropped open in outrage. “But we’re all doubled up in there as it is! No one even has a bed to themselves!”

Gilbert nodded sympathetically. “At least my Pa could help with lumber for additions to your house. But wasn’t there a problem last year when they were going to do that? Couldn’t get a permit to build an addition or outbuilding, if I remember correctly. Well, Pa told Ma this morning that Mullins has a mundane buddy from that Gentleman’s Club working in the town planning office. Said the buddy likes games of chance more than dock workers like their hooch.”

“It looks like he’s been planning all this for a long time.” Bill decided to share his worries with the group. “We don’t know what kinds of things he’s Seen. Considering he’s gotten more paranoid over the last few years, we should assume he’s been going behind our parents’ backs for at least that long. There might be more nasty surprises coming. We know he’s watching our parents. Probably you and Gilbert too, Theo, since you got your Wisdom. He might think they’ll try and foil him somehow. But he pretty much ignores the rest of us kids.” Bill didn’t mention Millie’s arm again. “We can find things out so our parents won’t be flying blind.”

“It keeps on coming back to a problem of money.” asked Rachel. “He said Mr. Chiavo didn’t have any on the same morning all the papers are full of headlines about the stock market. If part of his planning’s based on that, we could make things harder for him by making our own wages.”

“If it were summer,” said Gilbert, “that would be a good point. I could start throwing my Wisdom around down on the farm and get you a bumper crop. But it’s almost November. Not much I can do until spring.”

“Some of us have to start heading to school, anyway,” said Millie. “We can think more during the day and talk about it later. Sarah, go and get your books. We’ll walk together.”

“We can meet back here after supper,” said Theo. “I can go down to Town Hall to look up some deeds and property records. Maybe there’s an old loophole or something Finn forgot about.”

“I’ll go to Pilgrim Hall,” said Gilbert. “I know it’s a boring museum we’ve all seen the exhibits in, but they have archives. If there’s a discrepancy between those and the ones in Town Hall, we’ll want to know.”

“We’re canning at home all day,” said Rachel, “but that means I’ll be with Gran and she loves spinning yarns. I’ll ask her everything she knows about the past generations of Mullinses. Maybe she knows something useful about countering Sight Wise.”

Bill wished he could do more than sit in a classroom all day, but that was just part of his life for the rest of the year, family feuds or no. He’d check the library if he got the chance.

Chapter Four

Salvatore Tucci didn’t make mistakes, he just had learning experiences. After last time, he went out of his way to make an appointment with Esmerelda Cavalcante. He sat at a table near the swinging double doors to the kitchen, waiting.

The Plymouth Supper Club practically stood at attention with a crisp kind of class. White starched tablecloths and little gilded vases with a red and a white carnation adorned each table. Gleaming polished brass railings marked out the boundaries between seating sections. Wood paneling practically blushed with deep stain, polished to the point where murky reflections lingered on each wall. Pine hardwood graced the floors except for the area directly in front of the upright piano where bi-color parquet lay in wait for future dancing feet.

This place wasn’t half so nice seven years ago. That was back before Raul Cavalcante got himself clipped over some bootlegging dispute with the Irish and nearly lost Giacomo Bianco his foothold here. Raul used to drink as much as his patrons did, and didn’t put much of his own take back into the place. His widow ended up making a supply agreement with the Boss of Fall River, who also happened to be her cousin.

Everyone assumed Giacomo Bianco must be giving Esmerelda business advice, but Sal Tucci suspected otherwise. He’d watched the place for a month and had never seen Bianco himself. The only one of the Fall River guys he’d seen was the rumrunner, and he wasn’t even a made man. Then again, Sal had his own shortcomings, secret for now.

“Thanks, doll.” Even through the kitchen doors, that term of endearment sounded fresh and new in a woman’s voice. “When will I see your gorgeous mug again?”

The doors swung open, revealing a handsome bronze-skinned man in his mid twenties. Now that Sal saw him close up his half Italian blood was unmistakable, which finally explained why he was no wise guy. Pomaded slicked back his black hair and strong cologne shunted every other scent out of Sal’s nostrils.

“Just call when you’re running low, smartie,” said the man. He glanced at Sal. If he was surprised to see another fellow here his face didn’t show it. “Your cousin will send me back with more supplies.”

“You’ll have me calling every night if you aren’t careful, Jimmy!” Esmerelda’s gaze stayed below Jimmy’s belt. There was confirmation of one rumor at least. Esmerelda liked banter with the gigolos. His hope for a good outcome for this meeting decreased.

“Homely” was the kindest way to describe Sal Tucci’s borrowed looks. The face had a Roman schnoz plus a physique indicating a lifelong love of baked ziti. He’d have to hope good manners and charm would be enough to sway Ms. Cavalcante Sal couldn’t change his appearance at this point without hopping a boat to Providence or Boston for a prettier full-blood Italian. The time for that had come and gone.

At least he’d invested in some snazzy suits in this body’s size. Seven of them hung from a pipe at the room Sal rented, each a different shade of purple, his signature color. It wasn’t red or blue, but something else entirely. A color between two primary ones suited a man like Sal Tucci, who had hands and feet in different worlds.

Ms. Cavalcante probably wouldn’t win any beauty contests either. That had more to do with her audacity in running this business and her taste in clothes than anything else. Bobbed ash brown hair brushed her chin on either side like wings of a mourning dove, lustrous and thick and healthy with just a touch of gray at the temples. An aquiline nose divided bloodshot eyes with honey-brown irises. These sparkled with more intelligence than most men generally liked. Sal was different from most men.

An of-the-moment drop-waisted dress that skimmed Esmeralda’s physique, but it was made of garish fabric in fuchsia and green paisley print. The colors tried to compensate for her own naturally muted coloring. Sal could relate. He spent much of his time thinking about what else he could be beyond what nature intended.

Sal waited until Jimmy had left the building. Esmeralda turned back toward the double doors and began walking toward the kitchen without even acknowledging his presence. Instead of tolerating her dismissal, he stood up, smiled, and gave her a slight bow.

“Ms. Cavalcante. My name is Salvatore Tucci, here for our nine o’clock appointment.” He tried to suck in his too-large gut and hoped his brow hadn’t perspired too much.

“Hmm.” She tilted her head to the left, then the right, like an antiques appraiser. “Call me Esmeralda for now. That may change depending on what you have to say. Mr. Tucci.” He waited for her to either sit at his table or invite him into her office. She did neither. Her expression reminded him of his mother’s while considering discounted produce at the market; unimpressed. “Well? You’ve got five minutes of my time. Use them wisely.”

“You might not remember the name Tucci, Esmeralda, but your late husband would have. My father was Louie Tucci and he worked with Raul for a long time, before the two of you took over this operation.”

“Louie? Sure, I remember Raul’s old pal Louie. The man taught my husband almost everything I ended up learning about this business. But he died seven years ago, if I remember correctly.”

“You do, Esmeralda.” Sal tried not to wring his hands or rub them on his jacket as usual when his nerves got to him. “My dad was supposed to continue working for Raul and you once this place got established, but he never got the chance.”

“Yeah, okay. But you didn’t make an appointment just to gab about your old man. You came here for a reason and I’ll have it out of you. Spill it, already.” She looked at her watch. “You’ve got two minutes now.”

“You still don’t have an enforcer. I learned everything I know about this business from my dad. You considered him an asset and wouldn’t you like another? I have the money to buy my way in.”

“Well.” Esmeralda smiled. “That wasn’t what I expected to hear. Your proposition is interesting and I’d like to say I’ll think about it because I remember old Louie so fondly. But one important ingredient is missing from your pitch. Why now?”

“Excuse me?” Sal almost heard a little echoing sound as the other shoe dropped.

“If you were so hot to work in this Supper Club seven years ago, why’d you only come here now? You were old enough to step up and fill his shoes then if I’m any judge of a man’s age. God knows I could have used the help all this time. So, where have you been?”

Sal couldn’t tell her about his borrowed body. He knew she must think it had something to do with the police, maybe even J. Edgar Hoover. She’d be wrong. But it didn’t change the fact that the reason he hadn’t come to Plymouth directly after his father’s death was that he’d been too young. How did you tell a prospective employer that the only reason you looked older than her is because you borrowed a body? The answer was, you didn’t. She’d have to either accept that and him, or turn down his offer.

“I can’t say, but I can promise you I wasn’t with any law enforcement agency.” At least he hadn’t lied.

“Sorry, Mr. Tucci, but that’s not enough. You’ll need to find someone to vouch for you, a person I can trust. You can come back to see me once you have that kind of good word. No hard feelings?” She held out one hand.

“Of course not, Ms. Cavalcante.” Sal clasped her hand firmly in one of his, and pumped three times, exactly as he’d do if she were a man.

She blinked. Esmeralda must have been used to most guys going overboard to make her feel girlish. But Sal took Ms. Cavalcante for what she was; a shrewd business owner. It’s how he’d want to be treated if he were a woman in her position, after all. Thank God he had the power not to be one.

“No hard feelings.” Now that right there was a lie to shame the Devil himself. And his feelings? Those were like diamonds, hard and precious, too.

Sal would regroup his efforts, recruit an ally or few. He’d fully expected Esmeralda to play like a man and the challenge that presented only urged Sal to meet it with relish. He’d mastered that game, after all, and looked forward to pitting his skill against a formidable opponent like Ms. Cavalcante.


Sal headed back toward the rooming house he’d been staying in. Plymouth was picturesque, even in late October when most of the foliage was gone. As he turned the corner, he could see the service entrance to the Supper Club. A couple of strapping young men hung around the back, loitering and laughing over the funny pages from the newspaper. That’s what Esmeralda Cavalcante wanted working for her. Young bucks she could train up into loyal enforcers and book-cookers.

It was too late for him. With seven unaccountable years, no one would vouch for him. The days of Louie Tucci were too long past for anyone outside the Supper Club’s camp to remember him, a double edged sword. He couldn’t anyone about his Wisdom or the particular challenges of using his abilities.

Walking up the street, Sal passed by the High School. Two girls and a boy, clearly late, ran up the steps with toast in their hands and coats flapping along in their wake. The boy looked like exactly the kind of kid Esmeralda would hire. He ought to get some employees himself, as soon as possible.

If Sal used a bit of his buy-in money, he could set himself up with a loyal mole. All he really needed to find out was the kind of information a smart kid might notice while nobody paid much attention to him. Intel like that could at least lead to a way to prove himself. It’d be risky, but not too much.

Because Esmeralda was a woman in business, she wouldn’t want to call in help and risk some wise guy trying to cut in on her operation. She’d probably never suspect a kid waiting tables or running dishes.

Sal didn’t go back to his room at the warehouse. Instead, he headed to Town Hall. Squeezing into one of the phone booths, he pressed as much of his bulk as he could against the stool in the corner. Maybe the indignity would pay off. Sal only had to look through the town telephone directory.

Tucci had just started skimming the A names for vowels when he saw a brawny young man with dark hair sitting at the far end of a long table, a stack of old records in front of him. There was plenty of room out there and the chairs looked more comfortable than the puny stool in the cramped booth.

He squeezed out of the dinky excuse for a closet with the phone book, then gave the burly fellow a friendly nod and smile before taking a seat. The guy nodded back, sans smile but he didn’t seem the type to have an easy one anyway.

This town was a tough nut, but he’d come here to crack it and carve out a place for himself in the only business he ever wanted to do. If Ms. Cavalcante could run a successful operation, Sal Tucci could find a way into it.

He scanned the book sure enough he got rewarded with a name. Chiavo. He hadn’t expected to find anything in the front of the hefty directory, so there was nothing to mark the page. Sal looked around. The middle of the table had a box with a stack of small slips of paper next to a tin can full of little pencils. Sal reached over and took one of each, then jotted down the name, number, and address for G. Chiavo.

He thought the name sounded familiar but couldn’t place it no matter how hard he tried. Maybe it would come to him later. Important memories had a way of surfacing eventually. Sal went back to searching the book.

He added information for E. Cavalcante when he saw it, but only found six other names of the Italian persuasion. A couple of those were Anglicized. Even families here since before the Civil War got their names mauled by the bear of Immigration. Tucci liked to entertain the possibility that some families might welcome change like he did. There was always a reason to leave home. Having something or someone to to hide from was a common one.

Tucci considered his own secret, discovered a few years before the death of the man who’s name he carried with the aspiration to be worthy of it. Sal wasn’t anything like his father, not even after all the body swaps. But now wasn’t the time to think about that. The young fellow from the other end of the table loomed beside him, peering over his shoulder at the phone book.

“Good morning,” said Sal. He stood up and extended his hand. “I’m Salvatore Tucci, nice to meet you.”

“Theo Webster.” The young man took his hand and shook it like a world-class wet blanket. “I’ve had better and worse mornings than this. Is that the phone book? You look like you could use some help from a local. Are you trying to find someone?”

“You’re absolutely right. My father was from Providence and used to work here a while back. I’m looking for people he might have known.” Sal plastered a genial smile on his face. Webster was six feet tall and built like a truck, but probably not much over eighteen. A kid his age wouldn’t remember Louie Tucci or Raul Cavalcante.

“So you need information?”

“Exactly. What I’d really like is to hire someone, a person who could go around town and find things out. Are you interested in some work?” This kid probably wasn’t Italian. Sal’s luck was never that good.

“I don’t have the gift of gab,” said Theo, “but I’ve got a friend who might be able to help you. William Chiavo. He’s still in school, but they’re out later this afternoon.”

And there was that name again. Chiavo, Chiavo. Where had Sal heard that before and why did the deja vu give him the heebie jeebies? Was it a wise guy from Boston or Providence?

“Sounds perfect.” Sal leaned over and grabbed another piece of paper. He wrote the address of the Pilgrim Diner on it. “That’s where I’ll be later.”

“I’ll let him know. It was nice meeting you, Mr. Tucci.” Theodore waved.

“Likewise, Mr. Webster.”

Sal sat back down to scan the book one more time, even though he’d probably found the most useful information possible in this little building. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Theo Webster shelve the records he’d been looking through. Theodore opened the door out of Town Hall, late-morning light transforming the young man into a shadow in the doorway before it closed behind him. The light around him reminded Sal of fire.

Chapter Five

“As long as Jacky runs things in Fall River, this supper club’s doing all its business with him and his guys.” Esmeralda Cavalcante’s hand tightened on the handset the same way it used to strangle chickens in Aunt Lena’s Fall River backyard.

“You know you’ve got me between a rock and a hard place, Esme.” The old lilt that used to lift Liam O’Connell’s voice had been dragged down and drowned by the thick South Boston slur of his new neighborhood. “I can’t do nothing about the big boys no more.”

“I know.” Esmeralda sighed. “While you’re reminding me how different the new times are from the old, stop calling me that. It’s either Esmeralda or Ms. Cavalcante now.”

“There ain’t no right and proper way to name any woman in business, so I’ll call you what I please.” Liam’s chuckle muffled a glassine clink but not enough to hide the fact of his continuing whiskey habit from as old a friend as Esmeralda.

“Fair enough, Lee.” Esmeralda tapped the front on the desk drawer where she kept mementos of her youth and childhood in Fall River.

The old nicknames gripped her like that time machine in the Wells story, dragging her backward through decades until she could almost feel the itch of woolen knee socks and pinch of patent shoes.

“All the same, childhood pals or not, I have no real choice. Your current position might be smack in the middle of two immovable objects but mine’s the Horse Latitudes. Woman in business, as you said.”

“Yeah, yeah. I capisce but can’t capitulate.” Ice definitely clicked against glass on Liam’s end of the connection. “Sooner or later something will shake loose. Word on the street is there’s a boyo with a toehold down your way. And good old Giacomo’s operation has a few new policies I’m not sure you’re privy to. But you never heard this from me.”

“Thank you, Lee.”

“I never did nothing for you, Esme.” Liam snorted. “Irish don’t help Italians in this business without a selfish reason, no matter how far back they go.”

“I suppose this means you’ll come calling someday, asking for favors.”

“You always were the sharpest pencil in the case, Esme. Shame you’ve got all the wrong, um, attributes.”

“Yes.” Esmeralda hung her head. Family business hadn’t extinguished the flame she carried for Liam. Now that they’d spoken again she found that time had not diminished it either. “Good afternoon, Lee.”

“Thanks for the chat.”

They raced to hang up. Esmeralda won.

She slid the drawer open, reaching in. Her hand bumped the lockbox containing Cousin Jacky’s stolen book. Esmeralda brushed aside memories of nights spent scaring each other with monster stories, including that one night they may have actually seen one. Pushing past papers and pencil stubs, she found it; the envelope taped to the back of the drawer.

Esmeralda held the yellowing packet at eye level, sighing. Was she really going to do this again? Would reading Liam’s letter truly help lay her misguided affections to rest? If only she were back in Fall River, just a few blocks from Saint Anne’s and Father Francis’s confessional. Father John over at Saint Peter’s just wasn’t the same.

Weariness didn’t begin to describe Esmeralda Cavalcante’s usual mood. She’d been greener than Liam’s Ireland when she’d married the wiseguy Cousin Giacomo had chosen for her. Being the mover and shaker behind Raul Cavalcante’s throne hadn’t been easy but she’d managed to get him to take her advice. As a woman operating openly in a man’s world in the seven years since his death, she’d heard almost everything and seen even more. If only she could get back behind the scenes where she did her best work, perhaps she’d manage to rest.

She pressed Liam O’Connell’s envelope to her chest, on the left, over her heart. With eyes closed, Esmeralda remembered the first time she read that letter. He never should have written those things to her, about how he felt. But she understood why. The War to end all wars was on, Lee’s brother had died in it, and no one knew how long it’d last.

Esmeralda shook off all of the should haves. They never helped and neither did brooding over what might have been if Jacky hadn’t been tapped as a Boss. She hadn’t lied to Liam when she’d described being stuck. What she had feigned was surprise about the state of her cousin’s operation down in Fall River. Giacomo Bianco was in over his head and she had a fairly good idea of why.

Her cousin hid an illness, something he probably wouldn’t even admit in in the Reconciliation booth. They used to be able to tell each other almost everything; more like siblings than cousins, everyone said.

That all ended the first time Raul clenched bruises into her shoulders during a day-long binge. They’d fought a confidant’s war of attrition ever since, truths falling away from their conversations like front-liners. A no-man’s land widened between them even with her husband seven years in the ground.

“Dammit, Jacky.” Esmeralda let the letter drop to the desktop. “What’s eating you?” She reached for the phone but stopped. “I can’t call him like this.”

Esmeralda Cavalcante pulled the drawer open as far as it would go. Then, she took the little key from the chain around her neck and unlocked the box. Liam’s feelings were as true as that moldy old book about monsters in the Crusades. She tucked that letter away under the tome, closed the box, and locked it again but not before a shiver of guilt chilled her.

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