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Authors: R. A. Comunale

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Requiem for the Bone Man

BOOK: Requiem for the Bone Man
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Also by R.A. Comunale

The Legend of Safehaven

Clover: A Dr. Galen Novel

Berto’s World

Dr. Galen’s Little Black Bag

Shoes: Tails from the Post

 

Requiem for the Bone Man

Copyright © 2011 R.A. Comunale

All Rights Reserved

ISBNs:

978-0-9846512-5-2 (EPUB)

978-1-4956005-3-1 (Mobi)

978-1-4956005-4-8 (PDF)

Published in the United States of America

By Safehaven Books

A division of
Mountain Lake Press

Ebook formatting by

eBookIt

Cover design by Michael Hentges

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters to real persons living or dead is unintentional and purely coincidental.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a data base or other retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, by any means, including mechanical, electronic, photo-copying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

 

In memoriam: Leni, Cathy, Country Boy

CHAPTER 1
The Calling

He was eight years old when the dead lady found him.

He and Angelo had been watching the old Mustache Petes playing bocce in front of Myers Tavern, their baggy patched pants held up by suspenders, twisting and turning like grotesque ballerinas, as they pitched the wooden ball while the two boys laughed at the sight. But Youth is easily bored by Age, so they quickly ditched the game to sneak through the trash-filled alleyway between the tavern and the timeworn row houses that fronted the river. They slid down the muddy bank to walk along the shallow waterway toward the concrete bridge abutments. It was fun to hunt there for coins, buttons, and soda pop bottles to redeem at the store for money.

This time, in the shadows of the overhanging bridge, they saw a bundle of rags caught on a raised pylon. The increased speed of the water flowing venturi-like through the passageway stirred the bundle, and he noticed it had arms. One seemed to move, beckoning him forward, almost pleading.

“Angie, look!”

The other boy stared briefly before turning and running away, but he was drawn to it, moth to flame. He moved closer and saw her face. Even in death, belly beginning to bloat from the gas in her bowels, she retained some of her beauty, her long golden hair framing an oval face and narrow nose. Traces of light pink lipstick contrasted the death-blued lips and mottled pasty skin. Her long delicate fingers, artist’s fingers, were a mixed palette of blues, reds, and grays. She registered the final rictus of agony frozen forever in those staring green eyes, with forearms drawn together as if to ward off Death’s scythe.

Why was she here?

Surely she belonged in one of the big houses farther down the river where the people with money lived, not here in his neighborhood of soot-covered brick buildings.

Her eyes would not leave him, sunken, no longer vibrant, but planting within him a cry for help.

Don’t leave me!

He ran back up the riverbank, trousers wet from stepping in the water. As he passed the old men spending their remaining days in pursuit of childhood pleasure playing the ancient game, one of them called out, chuckling:

“Hey, Gallini, you piss your pants, kid?”

He turned toward the old man.

“I’m Galen, Robert Galen.”

“Yeah? You like you papa, boy. He too good now to roll ball with us,
con il suo nome Americano
. I remember him in old country, boy. Gallini good enough for him there. Good enough for him here!”

He didn’t stop. He had learned early on that you don’t argue with the Old. He began to run the final stretch to the four-story tenement where his mama and papa lived. He knew he wasn’t fast like the other kids with their long, thin legs. His were what his papa called marching legs, thick but not fat—yet. Papa used to tell him about all the marching men back in the old country.

Mama would watch Papa as he told the stories of their former hometown, of the drums beating loudly and the young men marching through the streets, arms raised and waving flags wildly.

“Give us war,” they had cried, and Papa now knew they had gotten what they wanted, and that all it had meant for many of them was death, and he was grateful he and Mama had escaped to America.

That was in 1914, Papa had said.

“Mama, Mama!”

“What’s the matter, Berto?”

She looked at her son with pride. He was strong already and smart, just like his father. Antonio could have been a
dottore
back home, but they both knew they could not stay there. Now her Tonio ate the fire every day for them.

“There’s a dead lady in the river! She’s under the bridge, and Angie and me saw her! She’s sad, Mama, she doesn’t want to be there!”

“Antonio, come quick, listen what your son say!”

Antonio Gallini sat tired from his evening shift work at the foundry, but he rose from the patched-up chair his Anna had sewed and fixed. He had brought it home from where he’d found it in front of the rich man’s house. His powerful arms, strengthened by countless hours forging the heavy metal tools at work, easily carried the chair atop his stocky body.


Che cosa, cara mia
?”

He listened as his son repeated the sad story. Then he put on his street clothes and walked the four blocks to the police station—they didn’t have a telephone—and returned. Soon the boy heard the wail of the siren as the police wagon headed toward the river. By then his papa, too tired to do anything else, had returned to the old chair, which Anna stood behind rubbing his neck until he fell asleep.

Poor Tonio, she thought, but it was worth telling the police. Her Berto would be a big man, an important man, someday. He would live in a big house. He wouldn’t live like this.

She smiled at her son. Already he looked like his papa did when they first met. She handed him the last apple from the bare table as he ran outside again.

But he wasn’t going to play. He made a beeline for the police station, where he knew they would take the dead lady. That’s where the
dottores
would examine her and try to find out what hurt her. He had read that in a book in the library, a book he wasn’t supposed to read because it was in the grown-ups’ area, but he had read it anyway.

He saw the police wagon in the driveway behind the red brick building and ran to the large double-door side entrance. It was open and he looked each way before walking along the darkened corridor. He heard the voices of policemen in the different rooms but he was careful not to get caught.

He saw a light shining under another set of big doors. He read the letters on the door: MORGUE.

Like
morta
, he thought.

Slowly he pushed one of the doors partway open and saw them, two men dressed in long white gowns like the priests at Easter Mass. They moved slowly, talking quietly to each other in words he didn’t understand, their heads covered in white caps, their hands enveloped up to their mid forearms in heavy dark brown rubber gloves.

Then he saw her, lying stretched out on a table in the middle of the room. A sheet covered part of her, leaving her feet, stomach, chest and head exposed. She looked like she was sleeping.

He saw one of the men in white take a big knife and make a cut right into her belly. The other man spoke strange words into a machine:

“From the gas distention, I estimate expiration occurred more than twenty-four hours ago.”

“There it is,” the man with the knife said. “Somebody botched the abortion.”

Then they noticed him.

“Hey kid! Get outta here!”

He didn’t move, his jaw set in determination.

“I found her. She was in the river. What happened to her?”

The two men looked at each other. The shorter man, the one who had been speaking into the machine, laughed.

“Why do you want to know, kid?”

They looked at the stocky little boy standing there in torn brown corduroy pants, tee shirt, and worn brown shoes, looking up at them so intently.
Strange little guy
, one thought. Then they both smiled as he said, “I want to be like you.”

From that time on, he haunted the clinic where Dr. Agnelli worked. He watched him move from patient to patient, comforting some, scolding others, never stopping to sit or eat. He memorized the suture techniques the doctor used, went to his mama’s sewing box and, putting thread to needle, practiced sewing two pieces of cloth together.

And he waited.

 

“Berto, there’s a fight going down on Hamilton!”

Tomas and Angelo called to him late one Saturday afternoon soon after his tenth birthday party. Mama had saved to buy three cupcakes, one for each member of the family, and had put small blue candles on all three. Even his father had smiled and told him how grown up he looked now that he was ten. He had been so happy when his father reached under the table and pulled out his surprise gift: a brass belt buckle he had made from scraps at the mill, with his name on it! His father had taken the buckle and put it on his son’s belt.


Siete un uomo, Berto
!”

He had run outside afterward to show his friends.

“Berto, come on, let’s go watch the fight.”

He hesitated, looking back at the door to his apartment building. Mama and Papa had warned him to stay away from trouble, but what ten-year-old boy could resist watching a brawl? He turned back to his friends and ran with them to the Hamilton block. Something was always happening there. It was the crux of the neighborhood territories, the nexus point where the different ethnic groups converged, so it served as the natural battleground for the frustrations of the immigrants and their children.

The three boys turned the corner and began hearing the shouts and curses of the older boys and men—spitting, kicking, and lunging at one another. The more vicious held back, waiting for the opportunity to mutilate their enemies with sharpened metal or spring-loaded zip guns.

The boys hesitated at the corner, peering around, afraid to go farther, but then they heard a loud scream and saw one of the teenagers fall to the ground, blood spurting in a narrow stream from his groin. The rest of the fighters stopped and then ran, fearing the arrival of the police or, worse, the neighborhood enforcers.

“Come on, let’s help him,” Berto yelled as he moved toward the fallen young man.

The other two remained transfixed.

He reached the victim and immediately began to press on the site of the stab wound, just as he had seen Dr. Agnelli do.

“Tomas, go get a bottle of your papa’s
vino
. Angelo, get a needle from your mama’s sewing kit—quick!”

He could feel the pulsation of the artery under his hand. So this was how it felt! How did Dr. Agnelli say it?
Blood runs down, walks up.
So, the blood was being pushed by the heart from above. He put more pressure above the stab wound.

“Here, Berto.”

Tomas had returned with the wine bottle.

“Pour it over where my hand is.”

Angelo arrived with a big curved carpet needle and a spool of heavy thread.

“Put the thread in it then put your hand where mine is now.”

He had never felt this way before. His whole body vibrated with excitement. With Angelo pressing above and Tomas pouring the wine into the wound, he was able to see the tear in the thick tube that wanted to spill its life-giving contents onto the cracked flagstone sidewalk.

He slipped the curved needle into the blood vessel, first on one side, then the other. He repeated to himself the mantra Dr. Agnelli would recite whenever he watched:
“Equal edges come together in prayer.”
One stitch, two, three! That should be enough.

“Tomas, give me your knife.”

He knotted the ends of the thread then cut it. No blood coming out!

As he started to stand up he felt a heavy hand on his back. His two friends had disappeared. Turning, he saw an enormously stocky man, a neighborhood enforcer, looking down at him.

“Good job, kid. We’ll take it from here. What’s your name?”

“Robert Galen.”

The big man noticed the belt buckle with the boy’s name on it and smiled, the jagged teeth in his jowly face glistening with gold.

“No, kid. From now on, it’s
Dottore
Berto.”

 

“Berto?”


Si, Mama
?”

“Berto, your papa wants to talk with you.”

Uh-oh!
All through his younger years he had never liked hearing those words, and it was still the same now. Was it because he had come home later than usual from his high school classes? He had been feeling increasing tension between himself and his father in the last few years, but he didn’t know what to do about it. His father was a strict, hardworking man, short but powerfully built, with penetrating dark eyes framed by years of labor and suffering. His stare alone was sufficient punishment for transgressions. He demanded only the best of his son, no excuses accepted. Speak, read, behave, perform, understand, and just plain do better than the other kids—or else!

“Berto!” his father would typically start.


Si, Papa
?”

“Your report card. You got a B in English!” he would say, always speaking in his native tongue.

“Yes, Papa, but it’s only a mid-term grade.”

“I don’t care. It’s not good enough!”

He sometimes would raise his right hand to strike the boy, who would wince reflexively, and then put it down slowly if he noticed his Anna was watching.

“Antonio, don’t hit the boy!” his mother would call across the room.

“He must learn, Anna. He must always do his best.”

He would turn and walk from the room, his wife following in his wake like a shadow.

“Antonio, why are you so hard on him? He is a good boy.”


Cara mia
, you know what we went through in the old country. Look at me. Am I a hard man? I do it to give him a better life than we have. I don’t want to see him sweat away in the mill, grinding metal, coughing up soot. He should not be like the other boys, hanging out on corners, trying to get in with those
Sicilianos
and their made men. Not my boy! Never!”

You don’t have to worry about me, Papa,
he would think as he listened to them talking about him.
I know what I want for my life.

He would remember his first friend, Angie, now dead from a knife to the throat. He had tried to save him, but the wound was too severe. The boy’s blood had spilled onto the street and into his lungs even as he had tried to stop its flow. So many others, his classmates from grammar school, were now dead, in jail, or hanging out. Not him. He knew what he wanted and was willing to work for it, no matter what.

When his father would smile at him, radiating happiness even through the mill-furnace darkness of his face, the boy would feel so proud, almost as if his father was treating him as an equal.

 

“Berto, go in, your father is waiting for you.”


Si, Mama
.”

He hesitated, then walked into the small front room of their tenement apartment and waited for his father to recognize his presence.

BOOK: Requiem for the Bone Man
10.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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