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CHAPTER 30

The death of Guiliano crushed the spirit of the people of Sicily. He had been their champion, their shield against the rich and the nobility, the Friends of the Friends, the Christian Democratic government in Rome. With Guiliano gone, Don Croce Malo put the island of Sicily through his olive press and squeezed out an immense fortune from rich and poor alike. When the government tried to build dams to provide cheap water, Don Croce had heavy equipment for building dams blown up. After all, he controlled all the water wells in Sicily; dams supplying cheap water were not to his interest. With the postwar boom in building Don Croce's inside information and persuasive negotiation style procured the best building sites at a cheap price; he sold dear. He took under his personal protection all the businesses of Sicily. You could not sell an artichoke in Palermo's market stalls without paying Don Croce a few centesimi; the rich could not buy jewels for their wives or racing horses for their sons without taking out insurance with Don Croce. And with a firm hand he discouraged all the foolish hopes of peasants who wished to claim uncultivated land from the estate of Prince Ollorto, because of nonsensical laws passed by the Italian Parliament. Squeezed between Don Croce, the nobles and the government in Rome, the Sicilian people gave up hope.

In the two years after Guiliano's death, five hundred thousand Sicilians, most of them young males, emigrated. They went to England and became gardeners, makers of ice cream, waiters in restaurants. They went to Germany and did heavy manual labor, to Switzerland to keep that country clean and build cuckoo clocks. They went to France as kitchen helpers and sweepers in garment houses. They went to Brazil to hack out clearings in the forest. Some went to the cold winters of Scandinavia. And of course there were the fortunate few recruited by Clemenza to serve in the Corleone Family in the United States. These were considered the luckiest of all. And so Sicily became a land of old men, young children and women who were widows by economic vendetta. The stone villages no longer supplied laborers for the rich estates, and the rich also suffered. Only Don Croce prospered.

Gaspare "Aspanu" Pisciotta had been tried for his crimes as a bandit and sentenced to a life term in the Ucciardone Prison. But it was understood by everyone that he would be given a pardon. His only worry was that he would be murdered while in prison. Still the amnesty did not come. He sent word to Don Croce that unless he was pardoned immediately, he would reveal all the contacts the band had with Trezza, how the new Premier had conspired with Don Croce to murder his own citizens at the Portella della Ginestra.

On the morning after Minister Trezza's ascension to the premiership of Italy, Aspanu Pisciotta awoke at eight in the morning. He had a large cell, filled with plants and large screens of needlework he had taken up during his time in jail. The brilliant silk of the embroidery patterns seemed to quiet his mind, for now he often thought of his childhood with Turi Guiliano, of their love for each other.

Pisciotta prepared his morning coffee and drank it. He had a fear of being poisoned. So everything in that cup of coffee had been brought to him by his family. The prison food he first fed in tiny portions to the pet parrot he kept in a cage. And for emergencies he kept on one of his shelves, with the embroidery needles and piles of fabric, a huge jar of olive oil. He hoped that by pouring it down his throat, he would counter the effect of the poison or cause himself to vomit it up. He did not fear any other violence – he was too well guarded. Only visitors he approved were allowed to his cell door; he was never permitted out of this room. He waited patiently for the parrot to eat and digest his food and then ate his own breakfast with good appetite.

Hector Adonis left his Palermo apartment and used the tram car to the Ucciardone Prison. The February sun was already hot though it was early morning, and he regretted wearing his black suit and tie. But he felt he must dress formally on such an occasion. He touched the important slip of paper in the breast pocket of his jacket, securely pressed to the bottom.

As he rode through the city the ghost of Guiliano rode with him. He remembered one morning watching a tram full of carabinieri blown up, one of Guiliano's retaliations for his parents being put in this same prison. And he wondered again how the gentle boy he had taught the classics could commit such a terrible act. Now, though the walls of the buildings he passed were blank, he could still see in his imagination the bold red paint that had inscribed 'long live Guiliano' so often painted on them. Well, his godson had not lived long. But what always troubled Hector Adonis was that Guiliano had been murdered by his lifelong and childhood friend. That was why he had been delighted to receive instructions to deliver the note in his jacket pocket. The note had been sent by Don Croce with specific instructions.

The tram stopped in front of the long brick building that was the Ucciardone Prison. It was separated from the street by a stone wall topped by barbed wire. Guards manned the gate, and the perimeter of the wall was patrolled by heavily armed police. Hector Adonis, all necessary documents in hand, was admitted, taken in charge by a special guard, and escorted to the hospital pharmacy. There he was greeted by the pharmacist, a man by the name of Cuto. Cuto wore an immaculate white smock over a business suit with a tie. He, too, had, by some subtle psychological process, decided to dress for the occasion. He greeted Hector Adonis cordially and they sat down to wait.

"Has Aspanu been taking his medicine regularly?" Hector Adonis asked. Pisciotta still had to take streptomycin for his tuberculosis.

"Oh, yes," Cuto said. "He is very careful about his health. He has even stopped smoking. It's something curious I've noticed about our prisoners. When they are free they abuse their health – they smoke to excess, they drink to drunkenness, they fornicate to exhaustion. They don't sleep enough or get enough exercise. Then when they have to spend the rest of their lives in prison, they do push-ups, they spurn tobacco, they watch their diet and are moderate in all things."

"Perhaps because they have less opportunity," Hector Adonis said.

"Oh, no, no," Cuto said. "You can have everything you want in Ucciardone. The guards are poor and the prisoners are rich, so it's reasonable that money should change hands. You can indulge every vice here."

Adonis looked around the pharmacy. There were shelves full of medicines and great oaken closets that held bandages and medical instruments, for the pharmacy served as a medical emergency room for the prisoners. There were even two neatly made-up beds in an alcove of the huge rooms.

"Do you have any trouble getting his medicine?" Adonis asked.

"No, we have a special requisition," Cuto said. "I delivered his new bottle this morning. With all those special seals that the Americans put on it for export. A very expensive medicine. I'm surprised that the authorities go to so much trouble to keep him alive."

The two men smiled at each other.

In his cell Aspanu Pisciotta took the bottle of streptomycin and broke the elaborate seals. He measured out his dose and swallowed it. He was surprised at the bitterness of the taste for that one second he could think, then his body bent backward in a great arc and was thrown to the floor. He let out a scream that brought the guard running to the cell door. Pisciotta struggled to his feet, fighting off the agonizing pain that wracked his body. There was a terrible rawness in his throat and he staggered toward the jar of olive oil. His body arched again and he screamed to the guard, "I've been poisoned. Help me, help me." And then before he fell again there was a great furiousness that he had finally been outwitted by Don Croce.

The guards carrying Pisciotta rushed into the pharmacy shouting that the prisoner had been poisoned. Cuto made them lay Pisciotta on one of the beds in the alcove and examined him. Then he quickly prepared an emetic and poured it down Pisciotta's throat. To the guards he seemed to be doing everything to save Pisciotta. Only Hector Adonis knew that the emetic was a weak solution that would not help the dying man. Adonis moved to the side of the bed and took the slip of paper in his breast pocket, holding it concealed in the palm of his hand. With the pretense of helping the pharmacist, he slipped the paper inside Pisciotta's shirt. At the same time he looked down at Pisciotta's handsome face. It seemed to be contorted with grief, but Adonis knew it was the contraction of terrible pain. Part of the tiny mustache had been gnawed away in his agony. Hector Adonis at that moment said a prayer for his soul and felt a great sadness. He remembered when this man and his godson had walked arm in arm over the hills of Sicily reciting the poetry of Roland and Charlemagne.

It was almost six hours later that the note was found on the body, but that was still early enough for it to be included in the newspaper stories of Pisciotta's death and quoted all over Sicily. The piece of paper Hector Adonis had slipped inside Aspanu's shirt read so die all who betray guiliano.


CHAPTER 29 | The Sicilian | CHAPTER 31