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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Net - Chapter 12. La Mafia
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The Net - Chapter 12. La Mafia Post by :sullc Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :940

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The Net - Chapter 12. La Mafia

CHAPTER XII. LA MAFIA

The surprising ease with which the capture of Narcone had been effected gratified Norvin Blake immensely, for it gave him an opportunity to jeer at the weaker side of his nature. He told himself that the incident went to prove what his saner judgment was forever saying--that fear depends largely upon the power of visualization, that danger is real only in so far as the mind sees it. Moreover, the admiration his conduct aroused was balm to his soul. His friends congratulated him warmly, agreeing that he and Donnelly had taken the only practical means to rid the community of a menace.

In our Southern and Western States, where individual character stands for more than it does in the over-legalized communities of the North and East, men are concerned not so much with red-tape as with effects, and hence there was little disposition to criticize.

Blake was amazed to discover what a strong public sentiment the Italian outrages had awakened. New Orleans, it seemed, was not only indignant, but alarmed.

His self-satisfaction received a sudden shock, however, when Donnelly strolled into his office a few days later, and without a word laid a letter upon his desk. It ran as follows:


DANIEL DONNELLY, Chief of Police,

NEW ORLEANS, LA.

DEAR SIR,--God be praised that Gian Narcone has gone to his punishment! But you have incurred the everlasting enmity of the Mala Vita, or what you term La Mafia, and it has been decided that your life must pay for his. You are to be killed next Thursday night at the Red Wing Club. I cannot name those upon whom the choice has fallen, for that is veiled in secrecy.

I pray that you will not ignore this warning, for if you do your blood will rest upon, ONE WHO KNOWS.

P. S. Destroy this letter.


The color had receded from Norvin's face when he looked up to meet the smoke-blue eyes of his friend.

"God!" he exclaimed. "This--looks bad, doesn't it?"

"You think it's on the level?"

"Don't you?"

Donnelly shrugged. "I'm blessed if I know. It may have come from the very gang I'm after. It strikes me that they wanted to get rid of Narcone, but didn't know just how to go about it, so used me for an instrument. Now they want to scare me off."

"But--he names the very place; the very hour." "Sure--everything except the very dago who is to do the killing! If he knew where and when, why wouldn't he know how and who?"

"I--that sounds reasonable, and yet--you are not going to the Red Wing Club any more, are you?"

"Why not? I've got until Thursday and--I like their coffee. Here is the other letter, by the way." Donnelly produced the first communication. The paper was identical and the type appeared to be the same. Beyond this Norvin could make out nothing.

"Well," Dan exclaimed, when they had exhausted their conjectures, "they've set their date and I reckon they won't change it, so I'm going to eat dinner to-night at the Red Wing Club as usual, just to see what happens."

After a brief hesitation Norvin said, "I'd like to join you, if you don't mind."

Donnelly shook his gray head doubtfully. "I don't think you'd better. This may be on the square."

"I think it is, and therefore I intend to see you through."

"Suit yourself, of course. I'd like to have you go along, but I don't want to get you into any fuss."

Seven o'clock that evening found the two friends dining at the little cafe in the foreign quarter, but they were seated at one of the corner tables and their backs were toward the wall.

"I've had my reasons for eating here, and it wasn't altogether the coffee, either," the elder man confessed.

"I suspected as much," Norvin told him. "At least I couldn't detect anything remarkable about this Rio."

"You see, it's a favorite hang-out of the better Italian class, and I've been working it carefully for a year."

"What have you discovered?"

"Not much, and yet a great deal. I've made friends, for one thing, and that's considerable. Here comes one now. You know him, don't you?" Dan indicated a thick-necked, squarely built Italian who had entered at the moment. "That's Caesar Maruffi."

Norvin regarded the new-comer with interest, for Maruffi stood for what is best among his Americanized countrymen. Moreover, if rumor spoke true, he was one of the richest and most influential foreigners in the city. In answer to the Chief's invitation he approached and seated himself at the table, accepting his introduction to Blake with a smile and a gracious word.

"Ah! It is my first opportunity to thank you for the service you have done us in arresting that hateful brigand," he began.

"Did you know the fellow?" Norvin queried.

"Very well indeed."

"Maruffi knows a whole lot, if he'd only open up. He's a Mafioso himself--eh, Caesar?" The Chief laughed.

"No, no!" the other exclaimed, casting a cautious glance over his shoulder. "I tell you everything I learn. But as for this Sabella--I thought him a trifle sullen, perhaps, but an honest fellow."

"You don't really think there has been any mistake?"

"Eh? How could that be possible? Did not Signore Blake remember him?" Norvin was about to disclaim his part in the affair, but the speaker ran on:

"I fear you must regard all us Italians as Mafiosi, Signore Blake, but it is not so. No! We are honest people, but we are terrorized by a few bad men. We do not know them, Signore. We are robbed, we are blackmailed, and if we resist, behold! something unspeakable befalls us. We do not know who deals the blow, we merely know that we are marked and that some day we--are buried." Maruffi shrugged his square shoulders expressively.

"Do you suffer in your business?" Norvin asked.

"Per Dio! Who does not? I have adopted your free country, Signore, but it is not so free as my own. Maledetto! You have too damned many laws in this free America."

Maruffi spoke hesitatingly, and yet with intense feeling; his black eyes glittered wickedly, and it was plain that he sounded the note of revolt which was rising from the law-abiding Italian element. His appearance bore out his reputation for leadership, for he was big and black and dour, and he gave the impression of unusual force.

"Your home is in Sicily, is it not?" Blake inquired.

"Si! I come from Palermo."

"I have been there."

"I remember," said Maruffi, calmly.

Donnelly broke in, "What do you hear regarding our capture of Sabella?"

"Eh?"

"How do they take it?"

Again Maruffi shrugged. "How can they take it? My good countrymen are delighted; others, perhaps, not so well pleased."

"But Sabella has friends. I suppose they've marked me for revenge?"

"No doubt! But what can they do? You are the law. With a private citizen, with me, for instance, it would be different. My wife would prepare herself for widowhood."

"How's that? You're not married," said Donnelly.

"Not yet. But I have plans. A fine Sicilian girl."

"Good! I congratulate you."

"Speaking of Sabella," Blake interposed, curiously, "I had a hand in taking him, and I'm a private citizen."

"True!" Maruffi regarded him with his impenetrable eyes.

"You predict trouble for me, then?"

"I predict nothing. We say in my country that no one escapes the Mafia. No doubt we are timid. You are an American, you are not easily frightened. But tell me"--he turned to the Chief of Police--"who is to follow this brigand? There are others quite as black as he, if they were known."

"No doubt! But, unfortunately, I don't know them. Why don't you help me out, Caesar?"

"If I could! You have no suspicions, eh?"

"Plenty of suspicions, but no proofs."

Maruffi turned back to Norvin, saying: "So, you identified the murderer of your friend Savigno? Madonna mia! You have a memory! But were you not--afraid?"

"Afraid of what?"

"Ah! You are American, as I said before; you fear nothing. But it was Belisario Cardi who killed the Conte of Martinello."

"Belisario Cardi is only a name," said Norvin, guardedly.

"True!" Maruffi agreed. "Being a Palermitan myself, he is real to me, but, as you say, nobody knows."

He rose and shook hands cordially with both men. When he had joined the group of Italians at a near-by table, Donnelly said:

"There's the whitest dago in the city. I thought he might be the 'One Who Knows,' but I reckon I was mistaken. He could help me, though, if he dared."

"Have you confided in him?"

"Lord, no! I don't trust any of them. Say! The more I think about that letter, the more I think it's a bluff."

"You can't afford to ignore it."

"Of course not. I'll plant O'Connell and another man outside on Thursday night and see if anything suspicious turns up, but I'll take my dinner elsewhere."

The two men had finished their meal when Bernie Dreux strolled in and took the seat which Maruffi had vacated.

"Well, how goes your detecting, Bernie?" Norvin inquired.

"_Hist_!" breathed the little man so sharply that his hearers started. He winked mysteriously and they saw that he was bursting with important tidings. "There's something doing!"

"What is it?" demanded the Chief. But Mr. Dreux answered nothing. Instead he lit a cigarette, and as he raised the match looked guardedly into a mirror behind Donnelly's chair.

"I'm glad you took this table," he began in a low voice. "I always sit where I can get a flash."

"A _what_?" queried the astonished Blake.

"Pianissimo with that talk!" cautioned the speaker. "You'll tip him off."

"Tip who?" Donnelly breathed.

"My man! He's one of the gang. Do you see that fellow--that wop next to Caesar Maruffi?" Bernie did not lower his eyes from the mirror, "the third from the left."

"Sure!"

"Well!" triumphantly.

"Well?"

"That is he."

"That's who?"

"I don't know."

"What the--"

"He's one of 'em, that's all I know. I've been on him for a week. I've trailed him everywhere. He has an accomplice--a woman!"

The Chief's face underwent a remarkable change. "Are you sure?" he whispered, eagerly.

"It's a cinch! He comes to the fruit-stand every day. I think he's after blackmail, but I'm not sure."

"Good!" Dan exclaimed. "I want you to trail him wherever he goes, and, above all, watch the woman. Now tear back to your banana rookery or you'll miss something. Better have a drink first, though."

"I'll go you; it's tough work on the nerves. I'm all upset."

"I thought you never drank whiskey," Norvin said, still amazed at the extraordinary transformation in his friend.

"I don't as a rule, it kippers my stomach; but it gives me the courage of a lion."

Donnelly nodded with satisfaction. "Don't get pickled, but keep your nerve. Remember, I'm depending on you."

Dreux's slender form writhed and shuddered as he swallowed the liquor, but his eyes were shining when he rose to go. "I'm glad I'm making good," said he. "If anything happens to me, keep your eye skinned for that fellow; there's dirty work afoot."

When he had gone Donnelly stuck his napkin into his mouth to still his laughter. "'There's dirty work afoot,'" he quoted in a strangling voice. "Can you beat that?"

"I--can't believe my senses. Why, Bernie's actually getting tough! Who is this fellow he's trailing?"

"That? That's Joe Poggi, the owner of the fruit-stand. He's my best dago detective, and I sent him here to-night in case anything blew off. The woman is his wife--lovely lady, too. 'Blackmail!' Oh, Lord! I'll have to tell Poggi about this. I'll have to tell him he's being shadowed, too, or he'll stop suddenly on the street some day and Bernie will run into him from behind and break his nose."

Thursday night passed without incident. Donnelly set a watch upon the Red Wing Club, but nothing occurred to give the least color to the written warning. In the course of a fortnight he had well-nigh forgotten it, and when a third letter came he was less than ever inclined to believe it genuine.

"You forestalled the first attempt upon your life," wrote the informant, "but another will be made. You are to be shot at Police Headquarters some night next week. Your desk stands just inside a window which opens upon the street. A fight will occur at the corner near by and during the disturbance an assassin will fire upon you out of the darkness, then disappear in the confusion. Do not treat this warning lightly or I swear that you will repent it.

"ONE WHO KNOWS"

Donnelly showed this to Blake, saying, sourly, "You see. It's just as I told you. They're trying to run me out."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to move my desk, for one thing, then I'm going to run down this writer. O'Connell is going through the stationery-stores now, trying to match the water-mark on the paper. The post-office is on the lookout for the next letter and will try to find which mail-box it is dropped into."

"Then you think there will be other letters to follow this one?"

"Certainly! When they see that I've moved away from that window they'll think they've got me going, then I'll be warned of another plot, and another, and another. It might work with some people." The speaker's lips curled in a wintry smile.

"You no longer think it came from one of the Pallozzo gang?"

"No! There's nobody in the outfit who can write a letter like that. It's from the Mafia."

"How can you say that when the same writer betrayed Narcone?"

"Oh, I've asked myself the same question," Donnelly answered with a trace of exasperation, "and I can't answer it unless that was merely a case of revenge. Take it from me, I'll get another letter inside of ten days. See if I don't."

True to his prediction, the tenth day brought another warning. The writer advised him that his enemies had changed their plans once more, but would strike, when the first opportunity offered. As to where or when this would occur, no information was given. The Chief was merely urged in the strongest terms to remove himself beyond the possibility of danger.

Naturally the recipient took this as proof positive that the whole affair was no more than a weak attempt to frighten him. Unfortunately, the postal authorities could not determine where the letter had been mailed, and O'Connell reported that the paper on which it was written was of a variety in common use. There seemed to be little hope of tracing the matter back to its source, so Donnelly dismissed the whole affair from his mind and went about his duties undisturbed.

Norvin Blake, however, could not bring himself to take the same view. As usual, he attributed his fears to imagination, yet they preyed upon him so constantly that he was forced to heed them. His one frightful experience with La Mafia had marked him, it seemed, like some prenatal influence, and now the more he dwelt upon the subject, the more his apprehension quickened. He was ashamed to confess to Donnelly, and at the same time he was loath to allow the Chief to expose himself unnecessarily. Therefore he made it a point to be with him as much as possible. This, of course, involved a considerable risk to himself, and he recalled with misgiving what Caesar Maruffi had said that night in the Red Wing Club. Donnelly alone had been warned, but that did not argue that vengeance would be confined to him.

October had come; the lazy heat of summer had passed and New Orleans was awakening under its magic winter climate. The piny, breeze-swept Gulf resorts had emptied their summer colonies cityward, the social season had begun.

The preparations for the great February Carnival were nearing completion, and Blake had the satisfaction of knowing that Myra Nell Warren was to realize her heart's desire. He had forced a loan upon Bernie sufficient to meet the requirements of any Queen, and had spent several delightful evenings with the girl herself, amused by her plans of royal conquest.

It was like a tonic to be with her. Norvin invariably parted from her with a feeling of optimism and a gayety quite reasonless; he had no fears, no apprehensions; the universe was peopled with sprites and fairies, the morrow was a glad adventure full of merriment and promise.

He was in precisely such a mood one drizzly Wednesday night after having made an inexcusably long call upon her. Nothing whatever had occurred to put him in this agreeable humor, yet he went homeward humming as blithely as a barefoot boy in springtime.

As he neared the neighborhood in which Donnelly lived he decided to drop in on him for a few moments and smoke a cigar. Business had lately kept him away from the Chief, and he felt a bit guilty.

But Donnelly had either retired early or else he had not returned from Headquarters, for his windows were dark, and Norvin retraced his steps, a trifle disappointed. In front of a cobbler's shop, across the street, several men were talking, and as he glanced in their direction the door behind them opened, allowing a stream of light to pour forth. He recognized Larubio, the old Italian shoemaker himself, and he was on the point of inquiring if Donnelly had come home, but thought better of it.

Larubio and his companions were idling beneath the wooden awning or shed which extended over the sidewalk, and in the open doorway, briefly silhouetted against the yellow light, Blake noted a man clad in a shining rubber coat. Although the picture was fleeting, it caught his attention.

The thought occurred to him that these men were Italians, and therefore possible Mafiosi, but his mood was too optimistic to permit of silly suspicions. To-night the Mafia seemed decidedly unreal and indefinite.

He found himself smiling again at the memory of an argument in which he had been worsted by Myra Nell. He had taken her a most elaborate box of chocolates and she had gleefully promised to consume at least half of them that very night after retiring. He had remonstrated at such an unhygienic procedure, whereupon she had confessed to a secret, ungovernable habit of eating candy in bed. He had argued that the pernicious practice was sure to wreck her digestion and ruin her teeth, but she had confounded him utterly by displaying twin rows as sound as pearls, as white and regular as rice kernels. Her digestion, he had to confess, was that of a Shetland pony, and he had been forced to fall back upon an unconvincing prophecy of a toothless and dyspeptic old age. He pictured her at this moment propped up in the middle of the great mahogany four-poster, all lace and ruffles and ribbons, her wayward hair in adorable confusion about her face, as she pawed over the sweets and breathed ecstatic blessings upon his name.

Near the corner he stumbled over a boy hiding in the shadows. Then as he turned north on Rampart Street he ran plump into Donnelly and O'Connell.

"I just came from your house," he told Dan. "I thought I'd drop in and smoke one of your bad cigars. Is there anything new?"

"Not much! I've had a hard day and there was a Police Board meeting to-night. I'm fagged out."

"No more letters, eh?"

"No. But I've heard that Sabella is safe in Sicily. That means his finish. I'll have something else to tell you in a day or so; something about your other friend, Cardi."

"No! Really?"

"If what I suspect is true, it'll be a sensation. I can't credit the thing myself, that's why I don't want to say anything just yet. I'm all up in the air over it."

A moment later the three men separated, Donnelly and O'Connell turning toward their respective homes, Blake continuing his way toward the heart of the city.

But the Chief's words had upset Norvin's complacency. His line of thought was changed and he found himself once more dwelling upon the tragedy which had left such a mark upon his life. Martel had been the finest, the cleanest fellow he had ever known; his life, so full of promise, had just begun, and yet he had been ruthlessly stricken down. Norvin shuddered at the memory. He saw the road to Martinello stretching out ahead of him like a ghost-gray canyon walled with gloom; he heard the creaking of saddles, the muffled thud of hoofs in the dust of the causeway, the song of a lover, then--

Blake halted suddenly, listening. From somewhere not far away came the sound again; it was a gunshot, deadened by the blanket of mist and drizzle that shrouded the streets. He turned. It was repeated for a third time, and as he realized whence it came he cried out, affrightedly:

"Donnelly! Donnelly! Oh, God!"

Then he began to run swiftly, as he had run that night four years before, with the lights of Terranova in the distance, and in his heart was that same sickening, horrible terror. But this time he ran, not away from the sound, but towards it.

As he raced along the slippery streets the night air was ripped again and again with those same loud reverberations. He saw, by the flickering arc-lamp above the crossing where he had just left Donnelly, another figure flying towards him, and recognized O'Connell. Together they turned into Girod Street.

They were in time to see a flash from the shed that stood in front of Larubio's shop, then an answering spurt of flame from the side of the street upon which they were. The place was full of noise and smoke. At the farther crossing a man in a shining rubber coat knelt and fired, then rose and scurried into the darkness beyond. Figures broke out from the shadows of the wooden awning in front of Larubio's shop and followed, some turning towards the left at Basin Street, others continuing on through the area lighted by the sputtering street light and into the night. One of them paused and looked back as if loath to leave the spot until certain of his work.

Side by side Blake and O'Connell raced towards the Chief, whom they saw lurching uncertainly along the banquette ahead of them. The detective was cursing; Blake sobbed through his tight-clenched teeth.

Donnelly was down when they reached him, and his empty revolver lay by his side. Norvin raised him with shaking arms, his whole body sick with horror.

"Are you badly--hit, old man?" he gasped.

"I'm--done for!" said the Chief, weakly. "And the dagos did it."

From an open window above them a woman began to scream loudly:

"Murder! Murder!"

The cry was taken up in other quarters and went echoing down the street.

Doors were flung wide, gates slammed, men came hurrying through the wet night, hurling startled questions at one another, but the powder smoke which hung sluggishly in the dark night air was sufficient answer. It floated in thin blue layers beneath the electric lights, gradually fading and melting as the life ebbed from the mangled body of Dan Donnelly.

It was nearing dawn when Norvin Blake emerged from the hospital whither Donnelly had been taken. The air was dead and heavy, a dripping winding-sheet of fog wrapped the city in its folds; no sound broke the silence of the hour. He was sadly shaken, for he had watched a brave soul pass out of the light, and in his ears the words of his friend were ringing:

"Don't let them get away with this, Norvin. You're the only man I trust."

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