At Caterina’s frightened look, Franco drew her to his chest. “Our beautiful bambina, if there was any way to keep you here and safe, I would not do this thing. We must get you out of town this morning and I’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.”
Caterina hugged him tightly as memories of all the wonderful times she’d spent with him flooded through her mind. “I’ll miss you, Papa. So, so much.”
“I know, Caterina. I know,” Franco said, rubbing his daughter’s back briefly before stepping away, floundering in his own emotions.
Why did he not see this trouble brewing and do something about it years ago? He trusted Angelina’s brother and look where that trust had gotten him. He was losing his daughter today and who knew what else would happen when Luigi Saverino found out his plans to have Caterina for his own were never going to materialize. The man was involved with the Italian mafia and capable of things Franco didn’t want to consider.
“We must hurry, bambina,” Franco said, handing a light coat to Tony to wear to hide the gun. Owning the grocery store, along with an ice delivery business, the family had wagons that could get Caterina safely away from the city and out of the clutches of Luigi.
Stuffing the pendant inside her dress, Caterina looked at the empty trunk waiting by the kitchen door and sighed. She hated being in close spaces. It made her skin crawl and her breath stop in her throat, but her father assured her there was nothing else to be done if his plan was going to work.
Wearing a dress and hat of Caterina’s, Anna returned to the room, looking frightened and uncertain. Caterina took her sister-in-law’s hand and kissed the girl’s cheek. “Thank you for helping me.”
“Anything, Rina,” Anna said, wiping at her own tears. “Anything to help.”
Stepping back, Caterina smiled at her friend, grateful for Anna and her connections. Deciding she would be safer out of the country, Anna convinced the family to send Caterina to her grandparents in England. They would be more than happy to take her in and help her begin a new life. All they had to do was get Caterina to the docks and on a boat.
Under the guise of going to Philadelphia, the plan was for everyone to think Angelina and Caterina were going to stay with an ailing aunt for a week. After dropping Anna and Angelina at the train station, Tony would pretend he was making a delivery to the docks and get Caterina on a boat as quickly as possible.
If any of Luigi’s thugs were watching them, Angelina and Anna would purchase tickets and board the train with bags they packed just in case they needed them.
Angelina’s sister Teresa really did live in Philadelphia, although as hearty and hale as she was, she would not only take the two women in, but also keep them safe if necessary.
“I’m sorry, Papa,” Caterina said, overwhelmed with remorse and regret for letting her temper get away from her. Her irritability had caused any number of troubles over the years but nothing to equal what she’d done the previous evening.
“Hush, Rina,” Franco said, knowing if Caterina hadn’t angered Luigi yesterday, it would have happened another day. The man was unstable and had long ago decided Caterina would belong to him.
Glancing down at his gutsy daughter, Franco couldn’t help but smile. Not everyone would dump a bowl of hot soup in Luigi’s lap, smack him upside the head, and live to see another day.
Caterina loved to cook, loved the magic of making delicious food, so she begged and pleaded to go to work at her uncle’s restaurant.
Franco’s brother-in-law, Lazzaro, arrived in America ten years before Franco and Angelina came as newlyweds, looking to build a good life for themselves and the family they hoped to have.
Lazzaro hired them to work in the restaurant he’d already established beyond the slums of New York at the fringes of a middle class neighborhood, paying them both excellent wages. It didn’t take long for the couple to decide to open a store and by then they started their own family with the arrival of Bruno and Brando. Since Laz’s restaurant was just down the street, Franco and Angelina’s children grew up in both businesses, helping wherever needed.
Except Caterina. Knowing some of the customers at Laz’s restaurant were of questionable character, Angelina refused to have her daughter exposed to the mafia men.
When the girl was fifteen, she began sneaking over to her uncle’s place where he taught her how to turn the secret family recipes into meals for his restaurant. Eventually, her parents gave in and Caterina worked for her uncle full-time, becoming the head cook at his restaurant.
Just seventeen when Luigi took note of the raven-haired beauty, from that day on he watched her and waited for the time to be right to claim her as his own.
Five years later, he was tired of waiting. When she humiliated him, he threatened to desecrate her virtue that very night if she put him off any longer.
In an effort to keep her alive and unharmed, Lazzaro promised the raging man his obstinate niece would agree to marry him soon. He arranged for both families to meet the following evening at his restaurant to discuss the details and make formal declarations.
Franco had an urgent need to get his precious daughter out of town before Luigi had any idea he was about to be left without a bride.
Receiving numerous requests during the last several years from potential suitors to wed Caterina, he’d refused them all.
Marrying his sweetheart when he was barely more than a boy, Franco wanted all his children to wed for love. It was up to Caterina to decide when she was ready and whom she’d marry. At twenty-two, she’d yet to find someone who turned her head, let alone softened her heart or sharp tongue.
“You’ll be fine, bambina, but hurry,” her father said, helping her climb in the trunk. “Tony made sure there are holes in the sides so you’ll have plenty of air. Be safe, my beautiful daughter.”
Catching a glimpse of her mother’s tears, Caterina closed her eyes as her father hooked one latch to keep the lid of the trunk closed.
Trying not to panic in the enclosed space, Caterina felt the trunk hefted and knew it was Tony and Alonzo grunting as they lifted the trunk, carrying it to the wagon. Setting it down, she heard the scrape as they slid the trunk onto the bed of the wagon.
“Mamma, we’ll miss you while you’re gone. I hope Aunt Teresa appreciates the hardship we’ll endure without you and Caterina here,” Carlo said loudly, helping his mother and Anna into the wagon beside Tony. He wanted, quite badly, to kiss his wife goodbye, but if they were under scrutiny from Luigi’s men, that would surely give away their scheme.
Convinced Luigi had someone keeping an eye on them, a careful look around didn’t reveal anyone. Having watched what went on when the mafia was involved, though, they all knew looks could be deceiving.
“Tell your sister hello for me, Angel,” Franco called, using his pet name for his wife as he offered a jaunty wave to the departing group. “I’ll have Laz tell Luigi to expect you back in a week or two, Rina.”
Anna turned and waved at Franco, careful to keep her head down and her face shadowed.
Franco winked and strolled into his store, like it was a normal workday. It was vital they all acted as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. That’s why they were entrusting Tony to get Caterina safely on a departing ship.
Pulling out on the quiet street before the bustle of the day began, Tony chatted with Anna and his mother, attempting to act as normally as he could. Trying not to look nervous, he occasionally glanced behind him to where several trunks and bags sat in the back of the wagon. Hitting a hole in the road, the trunks bumped together and he thought he heard a gasp from Caterina. Praying she was fine, he didn’t slow the horses, but kept on toward the train station.
He hoped Luigi’s men believed Anna was Caterina. If they didn’t, he had no chance of getting his sister to the docks.
None at all.
Glancing over his shoulder, he recognized one of Luigi’s thugs on a horse riding a block behind him, trying to stay out of the line of sight.
“We’ve got company, but don’t turn around,” Tony said as he urged the horses to move faster through the streets.
“So soon?” Angelina asked, tightening her grip on the seat of the wagon. How were they going to get her baby safely out of town if Luigi’s gang was already following them? She and Anna would really have to go to Philadelphia, if they could make it on the train. Good thing they’d each packed a bag, just in case, and Franco had given her plenty of money for tickets and food.
Traveling a few more blocks, Tony glanced behind him to see two of the police officers Luigi kept in his back pocket following the wagon.
Deciding not to alert the women to the trouble dogging each turn of the wagon wheels, he kept focused on the gathering traffic and considered his options. He could make a run for it and try to get to the docks, but since Luigi’s men were mounted and he was in a lumbering wagon, there was no way he could outrun them. He could grab Caterina and they could take off on foot, leaving Angelina and Anna to take the wagon on alone. Trying to decide the best course of action, he chose to stick with the original plan. If necessary, he could improvise.
Urging the team forward through the growing morning traffic, Tony guided them expertly through the streets, glad his father invested in a strong, sturdy pair of horses.
He could see the train station looming ahead when the two police officers rode next to the wagon.
“Tony! Where are you taking these lovely ladies?” one of the officers asked. Tony played with Fabian and Enzo as young boys, but somewhere along the way, they ended up on the wrong side of the law despite the badges they wore.
From what he could see, their entire purpose for being on the police force was to do Luigi’s bidding, not uphold law and order. He wondered how they could get up each morning with a smile on their faces knowing they went against everything an officer of the law should represent.
Anna kept her head bent toward Angelina’s, effectively hiding her face while Tony turned a solemn gaze to Enzo. “Aunt Teresa is terribly ill. Mamma and Rina are going to take care of her for a while.”
“I thought Caterina had other obligations this evening,” Fabian said, obviously aware of Luigi’s plans to force her to wed immediately.
“Oh, that,” Tony said, shrugging his shoulders. “Luigi understood when he heard about how sick our beloved aunt has been. He and Caterina will resume their obligations when she gets back.”
“Is that right?” Enzo asked, glancing skeptically from Tony to Anna. “Is that correct, Caterina?”
Anna nodded her head without facing the officers. Using a handkerchief to cover her face, pretending to dab at tears, Anna spoke quietly. “It’s true.”
“Oh,” Enzo said, glancing at Fabian and shrugging his shoulders.
Pulling up at the train station, Tony parked the wagon and got out to assist Angelina and Anna down. Much to his dismay, the two officers dismounted and walked around the wagon.
Angelina quickly pulled Anna’s face toward her, hiding it from the men, putting her arm around the girl’s shoulders as Tony opened the back of the wagon.
Before he could stop them, Fabio and Enzo began unloading trunks. Tony didn’t know how to refuse their assistance without drawing suspicion.
“Mamma, you and Rina go get the tickets and I’ll bring your bags,” Tony said, lifting down a trunk.
“How long are the ladies going to be gone?” Fabio asked, watching the two women walk off to the ticket counter as he unloaded a trunk. “Looks to me like they are planning to stay a while.”
“You know women, eh?” Tony said, giving Enzo a friendly jab to his side. “They pack enough for months when they’ll only be gone a few days. Besides, Mamma is taking medical and food supplies to Aunt Teresa.”
Enzo slid the trunk that held Caterina toward him. Tony put a firm hand on the man’s shoulder and grinned. “I’m sure you’ve both got better things to do than help me with these trunks. I wouldn’t want to keep you.”
“We’re happy to help. You know, any friend of Luigi’s is a friend of ours,” Fabio declared, snagging a nearby handcart and setting a trunk on it. “We’re nearly family, after all.”
Grateful the noise of the busy station was enough to drown out Caterina’s huff of protest along with words that sounded like “no we’re not,” Tony thumped a hand on the trunk, silencing her.
Scooting Caterina’s trunk to the edge of the wagon, Tony fastened the second latch and lifted it with a grunt. “I’ll get you out, Rina. Stay quiet,” he cautioned in a whisper as he set her trunk on the handcart.
He thought he heard her whisper “hurry” before turning to load the bags on the cart. His mother waved at him and he pushed the cart her direction.
“Got the tickets?” he asked, stepping beside her. Anna kept her head down, trying not to be obvious.
“Yes, three tickets to Philadelphia,” his mother said, then wrapped her hand around his arm. “Isn’t it sweet of Tony to escort us there? He’s such a good boy.”
Taken aback by his mother’s statement, Tony tried to grasp her newly made plans for him.
“You going, too, Tony?” Fabio asked, narrowing his eyes at Tony.
“Sure am. Can’t have two lovely ladies traveling unescorted,” Tony said, looping his arm around Anna’s shoulders with a brotherly squeeze, subtly drawing her closer behind him, away from the prying eyes of the two police officers.
“What are you going to do with the team and wagon?” Enzo asked. Tony could almost see the wheels spinning in his head, trying to figure out what the Campanelli family was hiding.
“Carlo will pick it up later when he and Alonzo are finished with the morning’s deliveries,” Tony said, hoping he wouldn’t be struck dead for all the lies spilling forth from his mouth.
“We can take it back to the store,” Fabio said, looking at Tony carefully, trying to read his face for some hint of emotion.