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Sands of Time(23)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

Lucia lived an idyllic life, filled with parties, beautiful clothes and jewels, cars and servants, and powerful friends. And then one February, on her twenty-third birthday, it all came to an abrupt end.

It began innocuously enough. Two men came to the villa to see her father. One of the men was his friend the chief of police, and the other was his lieutenant.

"Forgive me, Padrone," the police chief apologized, "but this is a stupid formality which the commissioner is forcing me to go through. A thousand pardons, Padrone, but if you will be kind enough to accompany me to the police station, I will see to it that you are home in time to enjoy your daughter's birthday party."

"No problem," Carmine said genially. "A man must do his duty." He grinned. "This new commissioner who's been appointed by the president is - in the American phrase - 'an eager beaver,' eh?"

"I'm afraid that is so," the police chief sighed. "But don't worry. You and I have seen these pains in the asses come and go very quickly, eh, Padrone?"

They laughed and went to police headquarters.

Angelo Carmine was not at home for the party that day, or the next. In fact, he never saw any of his homes again. The state filed a one-hundred-count indictment against him that included murder, drug trafficking, prostitution, arson, and scores of other crimes. Bail was denied. A police dragnet went out that swept up Carmine's crime organization. He had counted on his powerful connections in Sicily to have the charges against him dismissed, but instead he was taken to Rome in the middle of the night and booked at the Regina Coeli, the notorious Queen of Heaven prison. He was put in a small cell that contained barred windows, a radiator, a cot, and a toilet with no seat. It was outrageous! It was an indignity beyond imagining.

In the beginning Carmine was sure that Tommaso Contorno, his attorney, would have him released immediately.

When Contorno came to the visiting room of the prison, Carmine stormed at him. "They've closed down my whorehouses and drug operation and they know everything about my money-laundering operation. Somebody is talking. Find out who it is and bring me his tongue."

"Do not worry, Padrone," Contorno assured him. "We will find him."

His optimism turned out to be unfounded. In order to protect their witnesses, the state adamantly refused to reveal their names until the trial began.

Two days before the trial, Angelo Carmine and the other members of the Mafia were transferred to Rebibbia Prigione, a maximum-security prison twelve miles outside Rome. A nearby courtroom had been fortified like a bunker. One hundred sixty accused Mafia members were brought in through an underground tunnel wearing handcuffs and chains and put in thirty cages made of steel and bullet-proof glass. Armed guards surrounded the inside and outside of the courtroom and spectators were searched before they were allowed to enter.

When Angelo Carmine was marched into the courtroom, his heart leaped for joy, for the judge on the bench was Giovanni Buscetta, a man who had been on the Carmine payroll for the last fifteen years and who was a frequent guest at the Carmine house. Carmine knew at last that justice was going to be served.

The trial began. Angelo Carmine looked to omerta, the Sicilian code of silence, to protect him. But to his astonishment, the chief witness for the state turned out to be none other than Benito Patas, the bodyguard. Patas had been with the Carmine family so long and had been so trusted that he had been allowed to be in the room at meetings where confidential matters of business were discussed, and since that business consisted of every illegal activity on the police statutes, Patas had been privy to a great deal of information. When the police apprehended Patas minutes after he had cold-bloodedly murdered and muti-lated the new boyfriend of his mistress, they had threatened him with life imprisonment, and Patas had reluctantly agreed to help the police build their case against Carmine in exchange for a lighter sentence. Now, to Angelo Carmine's horrified disbelief, he sat in the courtroom and listened to Patas reveal the innermost secrets of the Carmine fiefdom.

Lucia was also in the courtroom every day listening to the man who had been her lover destroy her father and her brothers.

Benito Patas's testimony opened the floodgates. Once the commissioner's investigation began, dozens of victims came forward to tell their stories of what Angelo Carmine and his hoodlums had done to them. The Mafia had muscled into their businesses, blackmailed them, forced them into prostitution, murdered or crippled their loved ones, sold drugs to their children. The list of horrors was endless.

Even more damaging was the testimony of the pentiti, the repentant members of the Mafia who decided to talk.

Lucia was allowed to visit her father in prison.

He greeted her cheerfully. He hugged her and whispered, "Do not worry, faccia d'angelo. Judge Giovanni Buscetta is my secret ace in the hole. He knows all the tricks of the law. He will use them to see that your brothers and I are acquitted."

Angelo Carmine proved to be a poor prophet.

The public had been outraged by the excesses of the Mafia, and when the trial finally ended, Judge Giovanni Buscetta, an astute political animal, sentenced the other Mafia members to long prison terms and Angelo Carmine and his two sons to the maximum permitted by Italian law - life imprisonment, a mandatory sentence of twenty-eight years.

For Angelo Carmine it was a death sentence.

All of Italy cheered. Justice had finally triumphed. But to Lucia, it was a nightmare beyond imagining. The three men she loved most in the world were being sent to hell.

Once again, Lucia was allowed to visit her father in his cell. The overnight change in him was heartbreaking. In the space of a few days, he had become an old man. His figure had shrunk and his healthy, ruddy complexion had turned sallow.

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