Magdalena D’Alessandro arrived early to remove the card from the extravagant wreath that lay on Angelina’s casket. She read the sentiment then placed it in her purse knowing it would anger her father that ‘The Organization’ sent flowers to her younger sister’s funeral. His fragile health needed no additional shock. After taking a front row seat, Magdalena could only guess about the arrangements for the Catholic services.
Her father had not included her in the planning of her sister’s funeral. In this small California cemetery in Westwood, arrangements had been made to partitioned off an area along a wall of crypts then set with rows of chairs to create a temporary chapel. Magdalena sat looking up at the huge photograph of her sister that loomed before her casket. A small bronze plaque marked her short life, Angelina D’Alessandro 1965 – 1983. Not much of a student, but an exceptional equestrian, she looked like royalty on her $20,000 mount, Immigrant Song. Magdalena looked away from the imposing photo with a saddened face. When she turned to look up at the wall of crypts, she gathered Papa wanted Angie to be laid to rest in grandeur because near the ceiling, a bronze door hung open exposing a void. Sitting on the uncomfortable folding chair, she gazed forward, not wanting to observe the gloom around her. Magdalena slipped off her glasses and looked at her father with compassion.
Dominic D’Alessandro had insisted Angie be interred in this hidden and prestigious cemetery where many of Hollywood’s elite were buried. When the chapel filled, a priest entered in a white robe to deliver High Mass. He cleared his throat for silence among the assembly. A long, droning sermon followed, as her father’s body trembled and his face ran with tears. Magdalena worried throughout the service that her father might sink into another stroke. After his first episode, she was told to keep him quiet and away from emotional matters. His doctor didn’t know they rarely spoke anymore.
When the mass ended, everyone seemed to be holding their breath as people awaited the final grimness. The men and women all looked up. How often was someone one encrypted, and was that even the term? A mechanical groan came from the large hoist that held Angie’s coffin as it rose to the dark opening above. The device stopped with a jerk like an ill-controlled robot. A wrenching screech from the casket being pushed into the abyss unsettled the crowd. When the bronze door shut, the harsh sound sent the final message that vivacious, talented and high-spirited Angie was entombed.
Crying and sobbing sounds were heard from both men and women. Magdalena couldn’t remember when she last cried, having learned long ago to curb that emotion, but she continued to have trouble with bile rising up her digestive track. Swallowing hard, and for diversion, she turned to see who had attended. She had no idea who had been notified of her sister’s death, as her father had not included her in the funeral arrangements. He had grown increasingly hostile toward her after overhearing her conversation with Jimmy Sciacca. She had explained to Sciacca that she would be taking over her father’s legal practice.
After that, her father’s disdain seemed to close a chapter on their lives. I pray to God Papa’s scorn for me will one day end.
She turned to see their household help seated in the row behind. Gino, the groundskeeper, held his sister’s hand. Maria, the cook cried uncontrollably as she had been closest to Angie. From the time Angie was seven-years-old, she and Maria had spent hours in the kitchen together, baking biscotti and Angie’s favorite chocolate chip cookies. Looking back, Maria had been a surrogate mother to her. How strong Maria’s protest had been against Angie’s trip to Hawaii where she met her mysterious death. But Angie had begged Papa to go and, as usual, got her way.
Magdalena acknowledged Alberto, her father’s chauffeur, and his spouse, Rosella, the housekeeper. They sat in silence. Alberto is such a loyal aide to Papa. God must have sent him.
Magdalena caught the eye of Angie’s equestrian trainer, several of her riding mates and their parents, all with tear-stained faces. Sitting alone, tanned and tow-headed, she recognized Lance, her father’s first physical therapist, and her first date. They exchanged polite nods. Farther back sat Jimmy Sciacca, the Organization’s Boss, Joseph Cozza and his brother Vinnie, Sciacca’s trusted subordinates. She would thank them for flying in from Las Vegas but out of her father’s view.
Magdalena rose and turned to Alberto, “Please drive my father and the family home.” Magdalena now referred to the household help as family. It seemed appropriate since they were like a surrogate family with only she and her father left in the big house. She kissed her father on his forehead. He ignored her. His face was dark and held a grief-stricken pall when he turned his chair around. Looking straight ahead he engaged the switch on his electric wheelchair to exit down the aisle. Dutifully, Alberto followed him out to the car.
Walking toward the back of the chapel, Magdalena released a long sigh. Always trying to cope with her father’s rejection and knowing that the limited love they once shared was gone devastated her. This blow, coupled with managing the detritus of Angelina’s affairs, had worn her thin. Her father had arranged for the funeral, leaning heavily on his private investigator, but she had to deal with the Hawaiian police report and death certificate, Angie’s belongings, her horses and her personal effects. She also knew she had to move forward with plans to become the family provider. After her father’s last stroke he could no longer practice law. In a recent telephone conversation with the Sciacca, she had to explain that sad fact. Now she would represent clients of the Organization, as Magdalena had begun to refer to the Mafia Family.
She walked to the back of the chapel and approached Sciacca. He embraced her. “What can I do for my goddaughter? I am so sorry you have lost your only sister.” Magdalena nearly broke into tears at his fatherly embrace, something she hadn’t experienced in years. “That’s kind of you, Mr. Sciacca. I’m sure time will help,” was all she could think to say.
She turned to handsomely groomed Joseph standing attentively, palms extended allowing her the choice of coming to him. She put her hands on his chest, leaned close to him and whispered in his ear. “Meet me at the Bel Air for dinner at eight. Make reservations for a table and a room for the night.”
Sciacca’s hand rose to suppress a smile at her newfound intimacy with Joseph. Suddenly Joseph looked as though he was attending a wedding, not a funeral.
Magdalena stepped into her 1973 Jaguar XKE, a car Sciacca had arranged she receive on her eighteenth birthday. Sciacca had tried to make it look as though Magdalena’s father had given her the car, but he hadn’t. D’Alessandro was infuriated by the gift, and it remained an ugly reminder that he had forgotten her birthday that year. He was never able to condone such an extravagant gift or acknowledge it, some five years later. Sciacca had wanted Magdalena to have a car on her birthday for two reasons. She was a beautiful Italian girl, and never noticed by her father.
At breakneck speed, Magdalena raced up Stone Canyon to their Holmby Hills residence. She would have a long swim in the subterranean pool at the villa where her focus always became sharper.
Dominic D’Alessandro had negotiated this villa as part of his salary when he angrily took the position of council to the Los Angeles Mob. Severe medical debt and the necessity to raise young daughters forced his decision, but he never forgave himself. Magdalena had been fourteen and Angelina seven-years old, and she knew his decision shattered his morals.
Magdalena’s head rose high as she sped up winding Stone Canyon road. Angie, I will go to Hawaii and if I find any reason to avenge your death, I will.
Once in the pool, Magdalena began to swim her usual laps; the therapy her doctor had prescribed years earlier. Swimming the length of the pool, she began to reminisce when she and her sister were young.
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