Vinny opens the front door and they spray him with bullets. He dies on our front stoop.
After the funeral, Papa sends the boys and they wipe out the Mancuso Family. Then, he repairs the bullet holes in the bricks and cleans the bloodstained porch.
Business as usual. Quiet as the Don.
It's been fifteen years and I still take the side door. Then suddenly, Papa dies and I inherit the family business.
Is it making wine or making war? The boys want to know.
So do I.
"This spring thaw and freeze is killing us," Gus says, looking out across the fields.
Gus has worked for us for years, tending the vineyard, making grapes grow. He doesn't know about the business behind the business—doesn't want to know. Just wants to make things grow.
I shrug. "Worst case—we get a diminished crop and a shorter growing season—comes with the turf."
Gus' eyes crinkle. He knows what comes with the turf—he just pretends he doesn't know. I slap him on the back.
He remembers that summer I came out here to get away from the guns and gangs. I love Niagara—the feel of warm earth running through my fingers—cool nights, bonfires and Stefania.
Stefania Flores—The Little Flower, Gus called her. Never saw a girl so lovely. Followed her like a puppy—always a few feet away—always staring at her beauty.
"Take a picture—it'll last longer," she tells me.
I color right up to the roots of my hair. Later, she comes over and shares an apple from her lunch with me.
"Sorry, I was rough on you. Guys out here have nothing to do but stare at the sky, or stare at me."
I love to do both—Can't tell her that.
"It sure is a big sky," I say, leaning back on my elbow and looking up.
"Beats the quarter of blue I see from my backyard," she smirks.
"Do you like clouds?"
She turns and looks at me funny. "Yeah, what makes you ask?"
"Nothing—I like clouds—just asking."
She gets up and brushes off her jeans. "Come back tonight and we'll watch them together."
I did and we did. I've loved her ever since and now we're married.
"It's Marco on the phone, Pauli—the Calabreses want to talk."
Marco's our legal advisor and consigliere—at least, he was Papa's.
He's waiting for me like Mario, my brother and second in command, who's handing me the phone.
Marco's the number three man and the one who handles the face to face with the family and the competition.
"I need to see you, Pauli—this afternoon if possible."
"Villa Borghese, the rear section—I've got it booked."
"See you at three."
We live in the west suburbs of Toronto and run everything the city doesn't legalize—and some they do. But we're in a holding pattern at the moment—Papa's dead and I'm debating what to do.
Unlike Mario, I've gone to university and have a profession. I'm a teacher—just haven't been hired yet.
Stefania doesn't say much—doesn't have to—she knows me.
"You're a good man, Pauli—no way you can do what your Papa did."
See—she doesn't tell me—just looks up to me. I think I know what I have to do.
I don't want Mario mixed up in this, but he's got no education and it's what he's planned all his life. He wants to be a Don.
I want to close it down, but I can't. Agnese, Mario's wife, wants him to be the next John Gotti. She loves clothes and fine dining—but he can't support that lifestyle making wine.
Three p.m. and the limo drops me at the restaurant. It's a beautiful April day. There are more foot soldiers around than people, but nobody notices because we make a habit of being inconspicuous.
I enter and Marco motions me from the back. He's sitting with the Calabreses—Vito and Tino and there's a ton of food on the table and several carafes of wine.
"So glad you could come, Don Prospero," Vito says as he grabs my hand. "You know my brother, Tino."
Tino nods. He's swarthy and his face darkly shadowed as if rubbed with coal.
"Good afternoon," I smile, "I enjoyed the drive in."
"You gotta nice spread out there in the sticks," Vito says, "but I prefer living downtown where the action is."
Vito lives in Hamilton, a city west of Toronto and controlled by his family.
Marco softly intrudes. "Gentleman, first a toast to our continued cordial relationship, and then we talk business."
We all clink glasses—Chianti Colli Aretini—from the hills north of Arezzo.
Vito is all smiles. "Not your vintage Don Prospero, but a very rare and expensive bottle."
"It's a good wine," I agree.
Marco's all business now. "The Calabrese Family wants to redraw the lines in the west—They want the territory from Hamilton to the U.S. border."
"What about our interests in Niagara?" I ask.
"We're not interested in your vineyard or the winery—we want Casinos and drugs and numbers—a little prostitution—the usual."
I look at Marco and he nods slightly.
"And in return?"
"We stay clear of Toronto."
"Done. Marco will work out the details with you. From now on you deal with Mario."
Marco and the Calabreses are shocked.
"This is sudden, Don Prospero," Vito says.
"It is," I answer, "but necessary. Lengthy transitions aren't good for business."
Vito nods and looks pointedly at his brother. The table is silent.
I stand. "I'll leave you to your deliberations. The Calabrese territory has now expanded—may we all enjoy a fruitful relationship."
"Good day, Don Prospero," Vito says, "and I wish you the best."
Mario's happier than I've ever seen him and Agnese is over the moon with excitement.
"We'll have a big party at some place classy—maybe The Old Mill—and invite all our friends." Her eyes are shining like a child's.
I look over at Stefania—her eyes are glittering too, but with tears.
"Are you okay, Babe?"
She looks up at me with mingled pride and sorrow. "You are a man, Paul Prospero—a real man."
"So, you're okay with this?"
"Did you do this for me?"
I nod. "For both of us."
"No," she puts her fingers to my lips, "for all of us."
I look at her questioningly.
"I'm pregnant," she whispers.
My breath catches and my throat tightens. Tears well up behind my eyes. There is a grandchild Papa wanted, but now will never see.
"He will have no inheritance in the business," she says.
"He?" I ask dumbly.
She nods, her smile fierce as the summer sun. "It's a boy—I've seen him on the ultrasound."
"How far along are you?"
My throat tightens again. "Why did you wait so long to tell me?"
A tear trills down her cheek. "I was waiting for you."
The words go into my head and echo—it takes a few moments before the truth dawns.
"You didn't want him in the business."
"I'm sorry, Pauli—I didn't want to say."
What she means is she didn't want it to come between us. She's right.
Now, we're totally free and on our own.
I crush her with a bear hug.
"Be careful of your son, " she admonishes.
I start to cry and this time I let the tears flow. I will be careful of him.
Come September, Edoardo is born and I'm starting my first year of teaching at a Catholic high school up on Hamilton Mountain.
Nobody knows my past or ties my name to the Toronto family. Stefania and I live in a townhouse in Mississauga—a modest home on a lane filled with modest homes.
We have Edoardo baptized in the local church and a friend and his wife are the godparents. We hold a reception in a local banquet hall.
Mario and Agnese are insulted—more Agnese—she's got her nose out of joint.
"We coulda had a nicea party for youse at our house—you guys live in such a skinny little house out inna sticks," she complains.
They give a check for ten thousand dollars to start an education fund for Edoardo.
Mario holds the baby, admiring his stocky limbs
"Hey Pauli—this one'll be a fighter—but you got somethin' better in mind for him, eh?"
He chucks Edoardo affectionately under the chin. " Get an education. Little Boy, and don grow up to be no dunce like your uncle."
I clap Mario on the back. He means well, but he's too dumb to see a better way.
Two weeks later, Stefania calls me at school. She's crying so hard I can hardly understand her.
Mario just stepped out the front door and they sprayed him with bullets. He died on their front step.
Marco is already sending the boys after the Calabreses.
The funeral is a very subdued affair. The police discreetly keep their distance, filming everyone leaving the church.
The wake is at our family home where Mario got shot.
Marco had a crew out to repair the bullet holes in the bricks and clean up the blood stained porch.
I want to go in the side door, but can't—out of respect.
They did a good job, but the masonry's crumbling. Too many bullets and too many years.
Marco makes a speech and promises Agnese she'll be taken care of.
He assures her he's already taken care of another matter—all before the police have even finished their report, or started an investigation.
It's all too familiar and unreal.
I have to go. We start to leave—step out onto the cleaned up porch.
Stefania holds Edoardo close with one arm and with the other clings tightly to me.
I read her eyes. He'll have no inheritance.
I look back at my old house, at the masonry already beginning to crack and am glad.
The family ties are broken.
It was a crumbling legacy.