Capo: A Novel of New Orleans' Most Notorious Gangster

Capo: A Novel of New Orleans' Most Notorious Gangster

by Peter Watson

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A young Sicilian immigrant rises through the ranks of the Mafia in this “mesmerizing” novel that “gives Puzo a run for his money” (Publishers Weekly).
Sicily, 1879: After successfully smuggling a severed human ear past the police, Silvio Randazzo completes his dangerous first rite of passage—from peasant boy to Mafia soldier. The ear is a chilling ransom demand from Antonino Greco, Italy’s most famous and feared Mafioso. But it’s not until Randazzo commits his first vendetta killing that he truly “makes his bones” as a worthy member of the society that values honor above all . . . and rewards betrayal with death.
New Orleans, 1880: By exterminating the rivals of Angelo Priola—the most powerful gangster in America’s most decadent city—the newly arrived Randazzo makes his mark in the fledgling underworld of his new homeland. As the law closes in on the notorious Greco, and dangerous new players vie for Priola’s territory, the cunning, ruthless, and ever more ambitious Randazzo watches the path clear for his own ascension to the throne of capo—boss of bosses.
In the tradition of The Godfather, this “absorbing, historically authentic tale,” inspired by real events, brings to vivid life the bloody and brutal world of the Mafia (The Observer).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504020480
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 11/28/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 498,012
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Peter Watson was educated at Durham University and the Universities of London and Rome, and was awarded scholarships in Italy and the United States. After serving as deputy editor of New Society magazine, he spent four years on the Sunday Times “Insight” team of investigative journalists. Watson wrote the daily diary column for the London Times before becoming that paper’s New York correspondent, eventually returning to London to write about the art world for the Observer and then the Sunday Times.
He has published three exposés on the world of art and antiquities, twelve books of nonfiction, and seven novels—some under the pen name Mackenzie Ford—and from 1997 to 2007 was a research associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge. Watson lives in London, where his interests include theatre, opera, and fishing.

Read an Excerpt


"Sylvano, this is the most dangerous package you have ever carried. And the most valuable. If you are caught, and the package is opened, you will go to jail, despite your age. They might torture you, to find out where I am. You know that, don't you?"

Sylvano Randazzo nodded. The potential consequences of his actions were of no importance to him. All he cared about was that the man before him had addressed him as Sylvano. He hated the long version of his name. Everyone else called him Silvio.

"Good. Your youth is your best protection. It's one reason we've chosen you. But you are strong, so waste no time. Listen to an older man. Learn from his mistakes. Sleep as little as you can and you should be in Palermo the day after tomorrow. That's when you're expected. Anna Scafidi will meet you on the steps of the Church of San Domenico, at noon. She knows where the post office is, and it will be less suspicious for her to take the package to the bureau than a young man who can't read. She will write the address in her handwriting. Remember, the wrapping is as important as the package."

Silvio nodded again. That was the second time they had told him. Did they think he was an idiot?

"Wait until the package is posted. Then ride back at once. Is that clear? Do you understand?"

"Sono asino?" Silvio muttered under his breath. "Am I a donkey?" Of course he understood. Out loud he said, "Yes, sir." He was a tall boy, slender, good-looking in a swarthy way, with shiny Sicilian hair, black as olives. When he laughed, or glowered, the whites of his eyes flashed, like the belly of a fish glimpsed in a mountain lake.

The older man looked at him and smiled. "You get more like your father every day." He reached out and put his arm on Silvio's shoulder. Suddenly he grew serious. "You have his eyes, that way of biting your lip — and, so I'm told, his brains. Your father used to say that only three things matter in life: brains, blood, and balls." He laughed. "He also said he didn't know which of these three is the most important. Maybe you'll learn the answer one day."

He paused, and let his arm drop. "And stop calling me 'sir.' If you perform this task well, Sylvano, I shall be 'Nino' when you return. We shall be comrades."

Silvio's chest swelled with pride. This was an honor indeed. Nino — Antonino Greco — was known all over Sicily. He was the most famous mafioso in the whole of Italy, noted even in Rome. Everyone had heard of "the Quarryman," as he was nicknamed, and it was said in the cafés of Bivona, their nearest town, that his deeds were reported as far away as London and America. He took his name from his abilities with explosives, learned in the quarries near Gela. His strength and decisiveness inspired people, but his fierce will, as combustible as dynamite, frightened them, too, and he knew it.

Sicily was a barren land, forgotten by God and by Rome. The harsh, bare mountains in the center of the island were visited only by the wind and the rare eagles who attacked goats and sheep from the direction of the sun so that their victims would be blinded. Deep, treacherous gullies cut through the landscape, where olive trees and meager oak trees struggled toward the sky, casting frail shadows across the boulders of dead riverbeds. The roads — tracks really — wound from gully to gully with dried horse manure often the only sign that someone had passed that way before. Despite this, the friends of the Quarryman, a hundred or more people who surrounded him, rarely went hungry. They ate fish, rabbits, lamb. They had eggs and wine. They had dammed a nearby stream and so had all the fresh water they needed. Though they lived in a remote hamlet in the folds of the Indisi range, behind Palermo, Nino was a provider, and now Silvio might join that select band who called him by the name he himself preferred.

"Now go," said Nino. "I expect you back after four nights." For a moment his face darkened. He had a full beard, and heavy eyebrows, and when he frowned the effect was chilling. "Do not fail me."

Silvio looked at him, then at his uncle, Bastiano — the man who had been his father for more than a decade, since his real father had been killed. No, he could not fail them. Bastiano Randazzo was Nino's consigliere, his counselor and right-hand man, but even so he owed everything to Nino. If Silvio failed, Bastiano would suffer, too.

His uncle looked at him without blinking. He was too proud to plead, but Silvio could read Bastiano's face. "Do not fail," the face said. "Please, do not fail."

Silvio hadn't expected rain. It was true there had been clouds gathering all afternoon, but as he clambered from his mule and took down his roll of bedding — and the package, of course — and lay under an old bridge in the Azzirioli gully, the drops began to fall in earnest, slapping hard onto the yellow stones of the bridge and shivering the silver-green leaves of the olive trees. Rain was unusual at this time of the year in Sicily, and he made sure the package was safe and dry.

After wolfing down a piece of salami and a chunk of bread, he tried to fall asleep, as he usually did, thinking of Annunziata. Living in the mountains, with Nino Greco and his "family," was in many ways exciting for a young man of seventeen. There is a word in Italian, bivio, which means a fork in a road. The small hamlet called Bivio Indisi was therefore at the fork in the road near the Indisi mountain. Nino had made it his headquarters some years before, after a landslide had cut off the hamlet from the outside world. From Nino's point of view, and the family's, Bivio Indisi was totally secure. Viewed from the Cammarata Mountains, the half dozen or so crumbling buildings looked as though they were carved out of Parmesan cheese.

But there were drawbacks, and Annunziata was one of them. Nino's daughter, she was Silvio's first love, and so far as he could tell, she loved him in return. The drawback lay in the fact that at some level everyone in Nino's circle was actually related to everyone else. Annunziata and Silvio were themselves cousins — their mothers had been sisters. Her mother had died in childbirth and Silvio's mother had been killed along with his father. The losses had been hard on the two cousins and given them an added bond.

Silvio hated to think back to his parents' deaths, but sometimes, late at night, he couldn't help it. It had been more than ten years ago now, but the memory was as vivid and as cold as a plunge in the Platani River. Five of them, two boys and three adults, were traveling on horseback between Filaga and Santo Stefano. Silvio's mother, Sylvana, rode ahead with his father, Lorenzo, and Aldo, Lorenzo's brother. Silvio hung back with Carmine, Aldo's son, his cousin. The boys' mules were smaller than the others, and slower, and in any case there were things Silvio and Carmine had to talk about that were no business of adults.

They had reached the bridge crossing the Capraria ravine. Silvio and his cousin sometimes played there, daring each other to balance on the low parapet with the deep gorge on one side. Lorenzo had been shot first — the side of his head simply flew away — but Aldo fell from his horse moments later, dead before he hit the ground. There must have been six guns at least, judging by the noise.

Silvio's mother — as a woman — might have been spared, as the boys were spared, but her horse had panicked and thrown her. Silvio watched helpless as her body hit the parapet. Her spine snapped — a sickening crack, like the sound of a huge cricket. Then she had fallen over the parapet into the ravine. Silvio dismounted and ran to where she had fallen. Everything had happened so quickly he was not yet in shock. He peered over the edge of the bridge. His mother lay fifty feet below as if she were hugging the boulder beneath her. Black blood disfigured the stone around her where her head had exploded as it had collided with the riverbed.

Silvio still shivered when he thought of it. He could still recall the stench of his own vomit as shock had racked his body. He had never returned to the bridge to play.

Although his grief had ebbed over the years, he was left with one secret, a devastating relic of that time. It had been a vendetta killing, everyone knew that, carried out by the rival Carculipo family, who fancied that Aldo Randazzo had interfered in their business interests, and had killed Renzo for good measure while they had the chance. Yet what still kept Silvio sweating at nights was that moments before the ambush he had seen a flash of sunlight between the trees, but had thought nothing of it. More important, he had done nothing about it. Of course, he soon realized that what he had seen, from his position behind his parents, was the glint of a gun. Had he been sharper-witted, he might have saved his parents and his uncle. He might have saved himself the life of an orphan. Nino had said he had brains, but Silvio knew that he hadn't thought quickly enough on the one occasion when it had really mattered. True, he had been only seven, but what difference did that make? Brains, blood, and balls. You were born with those.

As a result of the ambush, and the considerable sympathy that was shown for Silvio when he was growing up, he had been widely indulged by the family. But both Annunziata and Silvio knew enough to keep their feelings for each other secret. Nino and Bastiano would not be pleased to learn of those feelings. The Catholic Church had strict rules about that. Silvio or Annunziata might even be sent away, and that was unthinkable. The worst aspect of this package business, this test of Silvio's manhood, was that he wouldn't see Annunziata for four days. They had never been apart that long before, at any rate not since this feeling had grown up between them.

As the clouds continued to gather over the Azzirioli gully, Silvio finally fell asleep, his mind full of images of Annunziata's breasts. He had not seen them yet ... not yet. ...

The next day, the first sound he heard was the hiss of raindrops on the leaves of the trees. Rain was so scarce in Sicily that a shower was always good news, a proper storm even better. But Silvio could do without rain just now. The package had to be kept dry. He hadn't been told this in so many words, but he knew that it was going a long way, to England, and if the paper on the outside got wet, the post office might not accept the package. The wet could also damage what was drawn on the inside of the wrapping, and that would surely spoil the effect.

He had no raincoat — he didn't possess one — just the string bag that he wrapped around his body while he rode, and in which he carried his food and the money he had to pay Anna Scafidi. But the bag wasn't waterproof. After a moment's thought he decided to wrap the package in his bedding. It might get a bit crumpled but it would keep dry enough in there. Then he was on his way again. Bastiano had given him a watch for the trip, so he would know when it was noon, to meet Anna Scafidi, and although Silvio couldn't read, he could tell the time. From the watch he knew it was just after five.

The rain worsened. For Silvio, the best thing about it was that it brought out the smells of the island — the olives most of all, sweet and cloying, and the pines. Even the soil smelled, when it was freshly wet. When it rained in Sicily the rocks on the mountainsides darkened. Within hours, small streams appeared from nowhere, gurgling in hidden places. The birds kept quiet. One of those flash streams ran near where his parents were buried, in Castronuovo. Not that he went there often; it made him too sad. The other good thing was that the rain kept the peasants inside; he saw even fewer people on the road today than yesterday. Given what he was carrying, he liked that. He told himself that everything was working in his favor.

He spoke too soon. Shortly after nine, he came to the Catala River. Here was a deep gorge with a narrow bridge, and as he came over the shoulder of the Parrino mountainside, he could see immediately that there were three figures on the bridge. They wore hats and gray-blue uniforms. Sbirri, as the local dialect had it: a term of abuse for the police.

Silvio reined in his mule. He had known something like this might happen. So far as the Italian government was concerned, the whole region of Sicily behind Palermo was infested with brigands and mafiosi. The locals felt differently. After nearly twenty years as part of the kingdom of Italy, they still didn't feel Italian, and resented the interference of the mainland, just as they had resented interference from outside for more than a thousand years. But for the time being, the outsiders had the upper hand. For one thing, they had the police, who mounted roadblocks like this one, hoping to trap someone unexpectedly.

Silvio got down from his mule and sat on a rock behind a tree, where he could see but not be seen. The hiss of rain was strangely comforting. He had to think. This situation was tricky. It required brains and balls. In other circumstances it would have been easy for him to have avoided the bridge. He knew the countryside well and could have cut across the mountains toward Cerruda and remained out of sight completely; but that would have taken time, more time than he could spare on this occasion. He had to be in Palermo by noon tomorrow. He was forced to stay on the road and cross the bridge. And he had to cross it soon. He needed a plan.

He bit into an orange while he thought. When he reached the bridge he would be searched. If the package were found it would be opened. When the contents were revealed he would be arrested. The wrapping was a dangerous giveaway that would ensure he would be jailed. The object inside would never reach its destination and, being so sensational, would be blazoned over all the newspapers. More to the point, he would have failed.

The more he thought about his predicament the more he realized there was only one hiding place on a mule. He nodded to himself, stood up, threw down the remains of his orange, and removed the package from the bedding. He opened it and folded the paper carefully, then put it in his pocket for the moment, to keep it dry. What was inside the package was small and still a little smelly. He held the object in one hand, fighting to overcome his disgust. With the other hand he took hold of the mule's tail.

The three sbirri were smoking, sitting on the parapet of the bridge and looking at nothing in particular, occasionally complaining about the rain. But they heard Silvio's mule soon enough. They got up, stubbed out their cigarettes, and one of them took out his gun.

Silvio didn't falter but rode right up to them. Rain dripped from his hair.

"Get down," said the policeman with the gun.

Silvio got down.

"Strip the mule," the leader said to the others. "Saddle, bridle, everything." He had brass decorations on his shoulders — elaborate brass buttons. He must be a captain.

One of the other two men held the mule by the head while the third started to unstrap the saddle.

The captain put his gun back in its holster. He was small but broad, with a round face and a barrel chest. He lit a fresh cigarette.

"Now you," he said, picking bits of tobacco from his tongue.

"Who are you, where are you coming from, and where are you going?"

"My name is Silvio Randazzo. I'm coming from Bivona and I'm going to Palermo."

"How old are you?"

"I will be eighteen next month."

"Isn't that a little young to be traveling on your own?" Silvio puffed out his chest. "I'm a man."

The captain grinned sourly. "And still a virgin, I'll bet."

Silvio blushed, as if Annunziata herself had said it, and the captain cackled. Then his expression changed and his face darkened. "Why are you going to Palermo?"

"To see my aunt. My father — her brother — is ill. There was no one else to go."

"What is so important about your aunt?"

"She has money. For medicines."

The captain grinned again, slyly. He was thinking: What a pity we didn't intercept this boy on his way home, when he would have had some money on him. But that thought appeared to jog his memory, and he turned to his associates. "Well?" The saddle was on the road, upturned, the bedding was unwrapped. The bridle had also been taken off and the bit removed from the mule's mouth. The third soldier held the animal by means of his own belt, wrapped around the creature's neck.

"Nothing here," the second man said. "Clean as a bishop's surplice."

"Search him, then," said the captain. "Take off your shirt."

"In the rain?"

"Take off your shirt!"

Silvio did so and the second man took it from him.

"Now your trousers. And that bag wrapped around your waist."

The other policeman went quickly through the pockets of Silvio's trousers. In the bag he found the remains of the salami and some money. He pocketed the salami and held up the money.

"Put it back," growled the captain. "We're not the Mafia, for God's sake. That's petty change." He pointed at Silvio's legs. "Now your boots," he said.


Excerpted from "Capo"
by .
Copyright © 1998 Peter Watson.
Excerpted by permission of Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

PART ONE Soldato,
PART TWO Caporegime,
PART THREE Sottocapo,
PART FOUR Consigliere,
The Birth of the Mafia in North America,

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