We were on the back porch on February 7, which was a Friday and we were doing our homework. When we started gathering at my house, we had decided that we would treat Friday like any other day, that way the homework would be done and we'd have two free days. Even Cary was there, she usually spent an hour or an hour and a half every day practicing the violin. She was good, really good, but not many knew how good, except for her music teacher, family and close friends.
She didn't want to be a child prodigy, so even the violin solo she had done at the school Christmas Pageant though it had stopped the show, hadn't shown anywhere near her true talent. She had hurt her arm earlier in the week. It wasn't serious, but the doctor had told her to lay off with the practice for four or five days.
Rose Peters came to the back door. She glowed with happiness, because of the babies she was carrying. My Mom was seven months pregnant and Rose was only five months, but she was a little bigger because she was expecting twins. She said, dryly “Phone for you Robby. Alexie Yachenco, calling from Moscow.”
“Thanks, Rose. I'll take it upstairs.” I told her. I opened the back porch door and Blue slithered through, then followed me as I pounded up the stairs. Well semi-pounded, my leg had only been out of a cast for two weeks and it wasn't quite back to normal yet. Almost, but not quite.
I picked up the receiver and lay back on the bed. “Hello, Alexie, what can I do to you?” I said cheerfully, teasing him a little. His English was almost perfect, but if you screwed up a greeting a little, it sometimes confused him. It didn't work this time.
“That's for you, Robby and you know it. Twelve year olds,” he said, giving a sniff of disdain. I giggled.
“I'm a kid, Alexie. Sometimes I even act like one.” I explained, almost seriously. “Okay, Alexie, what can I do for you?”
He said with a bit of edginess in his voice, “I'm a little worried about Cyrus. In the last few months, he's changed more than anyone I've ever seen in such a short time. He hated it when he first got here. But then despite the cold and the hard work, he began to enjoy what he was doing. He began to make friends with my werewolf staff and their children. I think for the first time he started to see us as people. Last month he risked his life to save three of the children. I even began to like the little bastard.”
He explained, “We had three rogue wolves come into the community and he killed two with his rifle. He killed the last one with his hand axe and he got chewed up a little in the process. The people have come to regard him as one of them and that's a high compliment from our people. I put it in my monthly report to the Council, but didn't make any specific request that you be informed, because he seemed content.”
Alexie said, “But suddenly since he received the weekly letter from his sister, he seems to have become stir crazy and I'm worried about him.” I respected his opinions and liked Alexie a lot.
“Alexie, do you have a copy of the letter he received with you?” I asked
He informed me, “Yes, Robby. I knew I was coming to Moscow and that was one thing I made sure I brought.”
I said to him, “You told me once that, quite often his sister will include something in the Romany language. You also said that your censor is mainly an academic. Sometimes academics aren't always up on the current slang terms. I know from Edward that Romany is as prone to slang as any other language. I'd like you to fax a copy of the letter to Edward Franco and see if he views the letter in a different light from your academic reader.”
I paused for a moment before saying decisively, “As for Cyrus, I think we must regard his debt as paid. Have him flown to Moscow as soon as possible and put him on a flight for home. If he's as agitated as you say, he might do something stupid, which could get him killed. He hasn't been there for a full year but pay him for the full year.”
“Are you sure, Robby? If I'm wrong, then it puts your life in danger.” asked Alexie.
I told him sincerely, “We don't really have a choice, Alexie, if we believe in the primary Werewolf Law, which loosely states an eye for an eye, well we have to take a chance when we owe a debt as well as when the debt is owed to us. As for my life, I'll take that chance. Bye Alexie.”
“Goodbye, my noble young friend.” he said and there was note of respect in his voice, which warmed my heart.
It was about an hour later and all the others had gone home and just before supper, when Edward called. “Yes, Edward?” I asked.
He told me, “You were right about the letter, Robby. It had a couple of words of Romany in it, that have come to be used, by the younger generation of Gypsys, as a call for help.”
“You'd better come out in the morning then, Edward and bring everything you can find about your niece.” I said.
A pause, then he said, “You knew Cyrus was my nephew?”
I said, a smile in my voice, “I read your file, Edward, it doesn't include a lot about relatives, that's not what we're concerned with, but it had a couple of photographs of you, just after you started working for the Council. You didn't look exactly like Cyrus, but you certainly could have been brothers, so I asked.”
“I'll be there in the morning,” Edward said, wryly.
Edward explained, “So Andrea has been working at the Fiat Club for the last year, as a singer. I've been there a few times, to listen to her and she's pretty good. But in the last couple of months, she and Joey Gallo have become an item. According to my mother, it's real love. She's a fortune teller, but she's no fake and she can tell.”
“But then, my mother told me, Andrea just disappeared a couple of days ago and Joey never came to the house. But my contacts at the club say that Joey had been acting really agitated, for the last couple of days.”
I asked, “Gallo, Edward, why is that name so familiar?”
He passed me a file folder, telling me, “Julius Gallo, he has some Mob connections, but if he ever was a member of the Mob, he no longer is. He's a big time arms dealer and the people he has working for him are first class backstabbers, no mob loyalty there. Joey Gallo has managed to stay clear of his Uncle's business. He was in the Gulf War as a helicopter pilot and when he got out he started a small night club, the Fiat Club. Over the years he's expanded it and it's pretty good sized, nowadays.”
He paused for a second before continuing, with approval in his voice, “It's not one of those fancy celebrity hangouts, Joey discouraged that from the very beginning. He stated that he didn't want to be the in place to go one day and out of business the next. Most of his clientele are regulars and he probably clears two to three million a year.”
I was looking at Julius Gallo's file folder and I read it through while Edward waited patiently. Finished I looked up at Edward, saying, “Chicken feed, Edward. Or from what's in this file folder, that's how Julius Gallo would regard it.”
I took the photo of Gallo and threw it over to Edward asking, “How old is Gallo, Edward?”
He looked at me a little puzzled, he knew I had just read the folder on him and I didn't forget much that I read. “Fifty-six,” he said.
I asked, “Take a good look at that picture, which I see from the back is five years old and tell me how old you think he is?”
He did as I requested, then shrugged, telling me, “He looks to be in his early sixties in this.”
I speculated, “Suppose that picture shows the first sign of illness and he's deteriorated even further since then. He's only fifty-six, but the illness has made him old. He's not Mob now, but he may have been. Suppose he wants to pass the business on to someone, who do you think it would be. Certainly none of the people he's surrounded himself with, a first rate bunch of backstabbers as you mentioned.”.
“Family!” said Edward, with certainty.
I answered just as definitely, “Yes, family. According to the folder, the closest family member he has left is Joey Gallo. Suppose he wants Joey and he's no longer quite sane. Does he want him enough to kidnap his girlfriend and try to force him to accept, by threatening her life?”
After thinking it over, he nodded, “Yes, to pass the outfit on to his own kin, he'll do anything.”
I threw a second photograph over to Edward. It showed a clear picture of an armed helicopter. I told him, “This picture was only dated two weeks ago, find out if the chopper is still there and if it's ready to fly.”
“Why?” Edward asked.
I said with wicked humor, “Well, we've got a helicopter pilot in Joey Gallo, I just thought we should have a helicopter to go with it and armed would be nice. I'm sure that if we steal it, they're not going to complain to the authorities.”
I wasn't surprised to see my uncle, Edward Franco, waiting for me in the waiting lounge of the airport, nor even that Robby Hansen was waiting in the car parked outside. He looked different somehow and it took me a few minutes to realize why.
He hadn't changed, I had. I looked at him with respect now, while a few months ago it would have been with hate and knowing my sister needed help, I couldn't think of anyone I would rather see.
Cyrus had changed, he was no longer the crook he had once been. There was humor in his eyes and confidence on his face and I could feel the respect in his manner. I didn't look into his mind, I didn't have to; it was right on the surface for all to see.
I told him, “You've changed, Cyrus, for the better. Once you find out what happened to your sister, though I have a pretty good idea and rescued her, what do you intend to do?” I asked.
Cyrus answered with obvious sincerity, “Go back to Alexie's. I never thought a southern boy like me could enjoy the cold, but I love it and that's become home, this is just a place to visit.” I could see out of the corner of my eye that Edward was impressed with this new improved Cyrus.
“Where are we going, Robby Hansen?” Cyrus asked, humor in his tone.
him, “Joey Gallo has been going for a ride about this time for the
last couple of days, just having his chauffeur drive around. I think
the moving does something for the helplessness he feels at the moment.
It doesn't appear that he's being followed. We didn't plan it, but his
chauffeur is a werewolf. We intend to intercept him and ask him to join
us for a long talk. We know he's met you a couple times and he didn't
like the stinker you were. I think he'll like the new Cyrus much better.
But he should trust you enough at least to get in the car, knowing the
bond there is between Romany families.”
“He's just up ahead, boss.” said our driver, Arthur Masters.
I contacted his driver. “Frank says that there's an alley about two blocks ahead, he'll turn in there. It's up to you now, Cyrus.” When we stopped he got out and headed for the other car.
When the door opened, I wasn't sure just what was going on. I wondered if my uncle had decided to kidnap me as well. When I saw Cyrus Amree, I relaxed, a little. I had never liked or trusted the man, but he was Andrea's brother. Knowing the bond between Romanies, I knew there was no danger. He persuaded me to join him and a couple of other's in the other car, so I did.
When I saw one of them was a little kid, I started to get pissed. When I looked into those big green eyes, it felt like I was back in the armed services and I had to fight down the instinctive urge to salute. There was never any mistake who was the boss and he certainly lived up to my first impression. He said that I wasn't being watched, but two cars just sitting there might look suspicious, so we would do some more driving around.
Once we began to move, he launched into what he had deduced about the situation and it was incredible how accurate he was.
“What do you want me to do?” Joey asked.
I told him gravely, “If he is on the verge of insanity or already over the edge, it's very likely he'll kill Andrea no matter what you do. He won't want a rival to take your attention away from the business and that's how he'll see your girlfriend. It won't even occur to him that it would piss you off. He's never been married and the sense I get from his file, is that he regards the business as the wife he never had.”
Joey nodded, saying, “That's the sense I've always gotten as well and it's been even stronger in the last couple of days.”
I told him, “All right, first we're going to steal a helicopter. It's located where your uncle stores some of the arms that he sells. It's flight ready, down to the smallest detail, including being fully fueled and its fully armed with missiles and machine guns and then...”
Cyrus wasn't really happy about bearding the lion in his den, but I figured we needed to. He wasn't disguised, since he would be returning to Alexie's as soon as this was over I didn't figure he would be in a lot of danger. Also, they probably knew what he looked like. I had a bit of a disguise. My hair was dyed brown and I had brown contact lenses on, that's about all a kid can do.
We drove up to the mansion gates well after dark, at about eight o'clock. The guard on the gates asked, “What the hell do you want.”
“I'm Cyrus Amree and I want to talk to Mr. Gallo about my sister.” said Cyrus, obviously feeling a little nervous, not that I blamed him, I was pretty nervous myself.
Neither of us were wearing much. I figured we'd get searched, so I was just wearing a pair of brief blue shorts and a white T shirt and sandals, certainly I had nowhere to hide anything. Cyrus wasn't wearing a lot more, a tight black T shirt and tight blue jeans and sneakers. Nowhere to hide anything on him either, though he had a cigarette package in the pocket of his T shirt.
The gate guard said, “Drive up to the front of the house, There'll be a couple of guards and they'll search you, before they let you in the house.” In fact they only searched Cyrus, because it was pretty obvious, I had no place to hide anything, but they ignored the cigarette package, which I figured they would.
The guards escorted us into the house and into the living room. Julius Gallo who looked about seventy instead of being a man in his mid-fifties, was sitting in a reclining chair, which was in a semi-reclined position. We were greeted by Gallo's second in command, Luigi Corso, a gravel voiced man in his fifties. I looked at his mind and he believed he was in command, but looking into Gallo's mind I could see he was really still in command.
The mind was pretty chaotic, but in his thoughts, there was the fact that he only had to push a switch and every building on the place would start blowing up. I locked him in position. I had no objection to him blowing everything up, just as long as I wasn't there when it happened.
“What do you want, Amree?” asked the gravel voiced man. He was in his fifties as well, but he looked his age.
“We want his sister and you're going to give her to us.” I said. “The cigarette package, Cyrus.” and taking it out of his pocket I pulled it apart to reveal a short range radio. I saw Luigi's face go white with anger and a guard headed toward us.
I shook my head, telling him, “Uh, uh, find out what it is before you try to take it away from me. It could be very dangerous if you didn't.” Luigi looked at me for a long time and then he nodded.
I switched on the radio, which was voice activated. “Wolf to Raptor. Wolf to Raptor.”
“Let's see how close to the swimming pool you can get that dummy.” I said.
“Roger. Firing.” and a few seconds later, there was a tremendous splash as the missile with warhead removed landed in the swimming pool.
Luigi went white, even before I continued. “Good shooting, Raptor. What are your further instructions?”
Joey said, “You figure if you're not out by eight-thirty, you won't be coming out, so I start shooting and I've got twenty-three missiles left.”
I told Luigi, “You should know the specs of that helicopter and its armaments, since we stole it from you.” I saw surprise flicker on his face, “I'd get Andrea Amree down here don't you think.” looking at my watch, “You've got fifteen minutes, before Raptor starts shooting.”
“Get the girl down here, now!!” Luigi barked and within a few minutes I saw a young woman coming down the stairs and Cyrus went to meet her and they embraced happily.
Now I didn't really care what happened to Luigi and his cohorts, but there might be an innocent somewhere in the building, as remote as that seemed. I told him, “I'd examine Gallo's chair if I were you, Luigi. If he pushes one button, every building on this estate will start blowing up. Probably thinking if he couldn't hand it over to family, he'd rather take it with him. You can't take him out of the chair, because it requires an eight digit password, on that keypad on the arm of his chair. You've probably noticed him entering it whenever he leaves the chair. If you took him out without entering the password, the explosives go off at once.”
“His heart is being monitored. If he dies, the explosives go off so you're pretty well screwed Luigi. You can't even get the money in the safe, because again unless that eight digit password is entered, opening the safe will set off the explosives.”
Kindly, well I thought it was kindly anyway, I said, “We'll be leaving. One minute after we leave you can start evacuating the buildings. You'll have until fifteen to nine, so I'd start moving as soon as I could.” I started to turn, then stopped, “Oh yes, have the gate opened please. Goodbye, Luigi.”
I waved at Cyrus and Andrea and we headed for the door and our car. Everything went as planned, the gate was wide open and we weren't followed. Half a mile down the road there was an area where a helicopter could land and we met Joey there. Andrea and I joined him in the chopper while Cyrus headed back into the city, a few miles away.
I said to Joey, “Up and get those video cameras working, there's going to be something I'm sure you'll want to see. Don't get too close to the estate.”
I looked at my watch as we took off. Twenty to nine. In five more minutes, Julius Gallo would be able to push his button. Once we had a bit of altitude we could see cars peeling out of the estate as fast as they could go and the whole place was floodlit, people all over the lawn, getting as far from any buildings as they could. I looked at my watch again. Thirty seconds. I began to count down under my breath.
At zero, the world blew up. Or at least that's the way it seemed, as every bit of the explosive was detonated. The floodlights went out and we couldn't see any more. We didn't stick around long enough to see if any fires started. From the light in the cockpit, Joey looked at me and I could see him mouthing the words, 'What happened?'
I mouthed back, 'Tell you later, let's go home.'
Home was a small private airstrip, halfway between the city and Benson. As soon we landed and got out half a dozen men pushed the copter into a hangar, to begin the job of removing all of the armament. I took Andrea and Joey into the lighted office and told him about the explosives and the fact that if Julius couldn't give his business to Joey, he intended to take it with him. He did just that.
All of the information was on computers on the estate. There were backups of course, stored separately but they were simply in another building on the estate and they went up with the rest.
At least that destroyed the business.
Andrea and Joey got married twice. Once in a simple ceremony before a justice of the peace. Cyrus really wanted to get back to Siberia, one of the kids he had saved was an orphan. Evwn though he had a whole community to take care of him, Cyrus had sorta been acting as his father and he wanted to get back to the boy.
The second wedding took place a month later, in Seamus Riley's field, under a great big tent, with Edward giving the bride away and all of Andrea's female relatives crying their eyes out. After the ceremony and before the reception I gave them a wedding gift. I had already given them a personal one, this was somewhat different.
Joey looked at the title to one helicopter with astonishment, asking, “I thought you planned to return it?”
I shrugged, telling him, “We tried, really, but with all of Julius' information destroyed, we couldn't find out where he got it from. Whether it was a legitimate purchase or if he stole it somehow. Don't worry, the title is solid. We're the best. We have to be, we have too many secrets we have to hide.”
I explained, “I know Andrea and Edward have been telling you exactly what we are, because they were told they should. With Edward in such close contact with us, we didn't want you to get suspicious and go to the authorities, thinking that we were a criminal organization of some kind. You may not believe it now, but if there's much contact between us, you'll learn.”
I said cheerfully, “It'll be handy having a helicopter we can borrow, without having to hire one. We can provide the pilots, or if you have no objections to working with us, you could take a break from the club occasionally and give us a hand. We already know that Andrea is almost as good at managing your club as you are, so a few days away every now and then, might be enjoyable.”
He asked, “Do you use everybody, Robby?” I didn't take it as criticism and I considered it seriously.
I said softly, “Yes, I do and so will any Elder. But not usually without willing cooperation. To protect our people we will go to almost any length and remember, you are now one of our people.”