Great Depression Blues
Synopsis: Speakeasy songstress Elena Devine (actual name Prudence Ermine) is kidnapped by big time mob boss Leo "Hands" Clementi. At first she loathes him, finding him arrogant and selfish but later finds him irresistible. Despite her deep love for Leonardo, she finds "family" life difficult and matters worsen when a rival gang make themselves known.
Chapter 1--A Typical Night at the Emerald Vase
Elena Devine had been working for the Emerald Vase ever since its owner, Mac, heard the sweet little teenage songbird at a local club. Elena wasn't always known by that name. She had been born "Prudence Ermine", but Mac had decided to change that to give it a bit more 'jazz' and 'flavor'. Hence to this day, 'Devine' not only described her angelic voice but her sultry curves and come-hither brown eyes.
Elena wasn't a teenager anymore. She was now a young lady, and working for the Vase was her bread and butter. Every night she made a mint singing, but she never suspected that she would become the 'prize' of some kingpin running from the law.
It was the height of the Roaring Twenties and the Charleston was the latest dance craze. It kept the customers jumping and the band swinging so morale was high even if prohibition had been instated. Mac kept the booze flowing and that made the patrons pleased. So long as they had their liquour, they didn't care whether the economy was failing and they had little if anything to keep them alive. Alcohol was their only savior. That and Elena's beatific visage and her ethereal voice.
It was a bit of a stormy night when Leo "Hands" Clementi had entered the Emerald Vase. He was with his gang, known as "The Five Gentlemen". There were actually more than five members of the syndicate, but he always went out with five best friends as his back-up. He seriously wanted a drink of Chianti, having trouble finding the fine wine anywhere else he had gone. He heard that the Vase served such sophisticated spirits, so he decided to give it a try.
"Password ?", Mac asked through the peephole at the door. The sound of a gun cocking was heard. It sounded like an automatic. Mac could see the steely gray eyes on the other side and men dressed in pinstripe suits. The boss was the snappiest of the dressers and was tall, chiseled and serious.
"If you don't open this door, I'll open it for you, and you'll be full of holes.
Capice ?", he said, gritting his teeth. Mac knew better not to call his bluff and let the gentlemen in, against his better judgment.
"It's already going to be one of those nights.", Mac thought as he sighed heavily. He knew he wasn't looking forward to serving these rascals, but the prohibition had brought out some rather shifty characters he hadn't had to deal with on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this was simply part of life and he had to accept it.
Chapter 2--Mr. Clementi Lays Down the Rules
Mac ran business as usual, serving the unusual (and rebellious) "Five Gentlemen". He had heard stories of these guys and they weren't the type of men you wanted following you home from work. Leo was a big-time mob boss and had spilled plenty of blood to maintain his position. Gentleman though he was, he was ruthless and always knew what tactics it took to get the job done.
The patrons were getting restless and were waiting for starlet Elena Devine to entertain them. Leonardo was surrounded by his associates. First there was his right hand man, Paulo "The Knife" Rigezzi, then the 'man behind the scenes', Thomas 'Tommy' Guns, Joseph 'Joey' Blue, and the youngest man in the group, Mac 'Finn' Finnegan, who was no more than a teenager. They had been playing a rousing game of 21 but had become horribly bored and hungry. Their meal was served quickly but they were still getting impatient.
"Bring on the dame !", Finn yelled at the top of his voice, banging down his glass of Jack Daniels. Mac, frantic, rushed to the backstage and clutched Elena's shoulders.
"Devine, you gotta go out there. They're about to murder me !", he stated, extremely concerned. Elena tidied up her curly blonde hair and put on rouge and makeup, spritzing herself lightly with a floral cologne.
"Alright, alright. I'm going, boss.", she said, straightening her black sequined flapper gown and adjusting her hat before heading out to the stage. She was a little anxious at first as she usually was but without missing a beat, she took the pianist's cue. Then the band played rollicking ragtime, accompanied by her spicy singing and sultry moves. Leonardo saw the svelte blonde and nearly ate his fork whole. He knew that this was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
"Joey, you're the gentlest guy of the gang. I want you to take this chloroform and give Ms. Devine here a little nap.", Leo said, unknowingly placing his hand over his heart. Tommy had to admit he thought his boss was a little 'out of it', but they had to do what he said, lest he discipline them in a manner most unkind later.
After everyone in the Emerald Vase had gone home for the night, The Five Gentlemen had stuck around without Mac realizing it. Joey, who was carrying out his boss's orders, snuck into Ms. Devine's dressing room and quickly placed a chloroformed rag over her mouth. She gave out a weak, but muffled scream. Rapidly, he and Finn, the muscle, easily carried the girl out to Mr. Clementi's Ford convertible. Paulo, Tommy and Leo were waiting patiently and made off with Elena before Mac even noticed she was gone.
Chapter 3--You, Sir…Are a Brute !
When Elena awoke she could smell cigarette smoke. Usually that fragrance bothered her, but this smoke was sweet and had a hint of mint lingering in the air with it. Slowly, she opened her eyes and assessed the situation.
"Who are you five ? What is this place ? And why am I handcuffed ?", she asked, becoming a bit frightened. Leo walked over to her and placed his hand tenderly under her chin, stroking it.
"Why toots, it's because I want you as my pet. You're going to be my pretty little songbird. If you don't sing when I want you to then there will be retribution of the most foul kind. Even if you are a very classy dame, don't say I didn't warn you about my temper.", Leo warned.
"It's best if you do what he says.", Paulo added. The others nodded. She jerked her head away from his touch, sensing he was a man to be feared, although she wasn't certain as to why.
"You sir, are a brute.", she muttered under her breath.
"Excooze ? What did you just call me ?", he said, staring at her directly in the eyes.
"Ah, nothing. Just commenting on that snazzy zoot suit your sporting. Very snappy.", she said, saving herself with her quick wit.
"Damn straight, toots.", he said, adjusting his collar and strutting like a rooster. He then left her and talked some things over with his boys. Elena had the feeling they were criminals of some sort and didn't like where this was going. As soon as night fell she was going to try to make a break for it. She didn't care what the leader did to her so long as she would be able to make it back to Mac and the Emerald Vase because that place had been the only home she had known for so long.
Meanwhile at the Emerald Vase…
Mac searched in a panic for his beloved songstress but she was nowhere to be found. However, he did find traces of cigarette ashes in her dressing room.
"Elena doesn't smoke. But the leader of that gang did !", he thought to himself, snapping his finger in frustration. His ire raised. If they had done anything to his girl, he would take his double barrel and permanently settled their hash for good. Then again, he mused, being heroic for that purpose wouldn't serve any purpose. More than likely, even if he killed the whole gang, there would be another that would take its place and they would be worse than the one before it. There would be a blood warrant on his head and only when he was dead would it be paid. Such a thought caused shivers to run up and down Mac Goldman's spine.
"I still can't give up looking for her. She's the Vase's lifeblood. Without her, I'll lose my customer base and its likely the Vase'll have to shut its doors.", he thought, sadly. He couldn't allow that to happen. His wife and three children depended on him and even with their fixed income, times were becoming a bit tough. With the sudden downturn in the economy, it looked as if matters were only going to become worse.
Yet, Mac had the vision of hope in his heart and believed that somehow the Emerald Vase would come out of this struggle.
Elena was relieved that Leo hadn't asked for any sexual favors. He was a gentleman in this regard, but she still loathed him. The Italian acted as if he owned the world and everything in it. She had to admit, however, that he could cook excellent food and she never went hungry; neither did the rest of the men he worked with. She cooked when she was asked and always made a terrific meal herself. It was amusing, she pondered, to see him eat her food as if it were manna from heaven. It was simply what she had learned about growing up in a family full of brothers and sisters and never having any time to truly enjoy her childhood. The men were saints around her, watched their tongues and only swore outside of the hideout. Leo, however, didn't swear at all, which was ironic, because he was probably the most macho character of the entire syndicate.
As time passed, Elena began to fall in love with Leonardo. She didn't expect it, but Leo was gentler than she had ever expected. He only revealed his temper when business wasn't good and then, he still kept everything on an even keel. He was very tender around Elena and quite the romantic when she was concerned. He told her everything about his "business", knowing she would keep it quiet. Even though she knew she was going to be walking an arduous and treacherous road she loved him even more for it. The guys in the gang were her brothers and she treated them all with respect. Even if they had done terrible, unforgivable acts, she stuck by his side.
After a year's time, Elena and Leo were married. She didn't worry too much about her former life as a singer because she was so well taken care of by the Five Gentlemen. It was likely Mac Goldman had stopped looking for her and found a new talent to keep the Vase operational. It seemed to be doing well since Leo and Elena would often take trips down memory lane to pass it in his Ford convertible. It was better this way to live in obscurity rather than to have everyone looking for her. She was presumed dead and could live a life of security now that she was part of the family. Pretty soon, though, the Clementi family was about to become a bit bigger. The boys weren't up to being fathers, but they were about to take a trip down the road of hard knocks to prepare the little ones, or ones for the rough year ahead.
The Clementi marriage went along as planned like something out of a modern fairy tale. Leo looked debonair and Elena looked ethereal in her gown. She even smelled heavenly in her gardenia perfume. It wasn't long after the two lovebirds were married that Elena found herself with child. Seeing that the two enjoyed surprises, they waited for nine more months to find out if she had one or two children and whether she was having a boy or a girl. She was actually blessed with both and despite the onset of the worst years of the Great Depression, little Angela and Fabrizio were living in the lap of luxury. Even the boys, who were hardened crooks, took a liking to the babies even if they were a bit fussy at times. The youngest member of the group, Finn, was their favorite plaything and he didn't mind that fact one bit. Tommy had to be careful not to leave his weapons unattended and Paulo kept a lock on the vino closet just in case the infants became curious and found a way to open a bottle of Chianti. Luckily their hands weren't developed enough for that yet and wouldn't be drinking wine for quite some time.
Chapter 4--Enter the Time Piece Gang
After another small time gig, the "Gentlemen" were hungry and tired. Instead of having dinner at the hideaway the guys decided it was time for a lavish evening out. Finn's girlfriend, Carlotta, had been assigned to taking care of Angela and Fabrizio for the evening while the "cats were away". Elena went along with them as well, since the men didn't want to be rude to her. After all, it was only fitting that she came with them. She was the woman who had kept the Gentlemen organized and on schedule in all of their dealings. Without her, they were scatterbrained as chickens pecking for lost seeds in the ground.
It was an upper scale Italian restaurant the Five and Elena had chosen as their evening treat. The evening was elegant and nothing seemed to be amiss until Elena started to have a sudden chill. From the corner of her eye, she had watched five gentlemen saunter in as if they owned the place. Each had a watch either on his wrist or in his pocket, looking affluent and fierce.
"Leo, I have an awful, foreboding feeling.", she said, reaching over to hold his hand. Leonardo hadn't noticed the Time Piece Gang's entry. They were talking to the maitre 'd, joking around with him a bit brashly. Tommy saw them and gritted his teeth.
"I think we should blow this pop stand.", he whispered.
"I gotta bad feeling too, boss.", Joey chimed in. They all felt as if the room was closing in on them. It had been years since Leo had seen the Time Piece Gang and they had been rivals since the first time they had met. Their leader, Ronaldo 'Rolex' Stephano raked in money in the black market, homemade moonshine and illegal gambling casinos. Leo was stiff-necked however, and didn't listen to his friend's warnings, not even the admonition of his wife scared him from getting the best meal he had eaten in months.
Quietly, as the Five enjoyed their succulent repast, Stephano approached Clementi.
"Long time no see, old friend.", the older gentleman said, pulling a gun from his jacket. Without even thinking, Clementi had done the same, and the two were pointing guns at each other; right between the eyes.
"I dare you to fire that gun, Ronald.", Leo seethed.
"I dare you to dodge all these bullets. I doubt you can.", Ronaldo threatened. Tommy had just begun to reach for his favorite piece when Joey waved him off to stand down.
"It's the boss's fight. Not ours.", he said, feeling his anger begin to boil. Poor Elena was frozen in fear, unsure of what to do or where to go. Before she knew what was happening, the two gangs began arguing and shooting at one another. She hid underneath the table, pulling her legs to her chest and rocking back and forth in the fetal position. She held her ears to drown out the screaming. She saw so many people falling down, unable to evade the barrage of bullets. There had only been a few that had exited La Roma with their lives, but Ronaldo had survived the massacre.
When Elena thought the worst was over, she surveyed the carnage and felt guilt, rage, and despair. "I should've done something. I could've stopped them !", she shouted. She hadn't noticed Ronaldo was still there, skulking about much like a vulture eyeing a fresh kill. He then held a gun to her cheek, perhaps a bit provocatively.
"No you couldn't doll. I'd likely do you in too, but, I don't kill women for sport. Consider yourself lucky.", he said, walking out the door. Sobbing uncontrollably over her friends and more tragically, her husband, she wept upon his chest and kissed him.
"I warned you, you dumb ox !", she whimpered. The entire group was gathered up by the bartender and Elena, and whomever else that happened to get in the way of the bullets was also laid to rest that afternoon.
Chapter 5--Dark Clouds
Fabrizio and Angela were aware of what death was but were still devastated that their father had left them so early. Elena wanted to skirt the issue of why he was killed but thought doing so would only contaminate their minds. They didn't need to be overprotected. The world could be dark, cruel and unforgiving and they were old enough to understand that. After telling them the truth, Fabrizio turned to his mother after wiping an arrant tear from his eye.
"Does that mean they'll come for us too ?", he asked.
"He doesn't kill women, son. But we will stay away from La Roma at least for a while. He's the only one left of the Time Piece Gang, but it doesn't mean he won't recruit more members as time goes by.", Elena responded, holding him close. The two children turned away from the cherry finished closed casket, unable to take anymore reminiscing and saying goodbye.
Elena had to watch her spending habits since the death of her husband and closest friends. She never wished to marry again even though men had lined up at her feet and practically presented themselves on a platter for her. She couldn't love any other man more than she had Leonardo. He was her one true love, and her one completing puzzle piece that made her whole. Despite the fact that the Depression made life difficult for everyone, she found a way to make money and her children could attend school without worrying. Of course their clothing had to be used and reused again and again, but that was a small price to pay in order to enlighten them. Nothing worse had happened since the jarring day of their father's death and matters seemed to be improving. The dreadful thirties were coming to an end and prohibition had stopped as well. New music was being played and spirits were high. The economy was taking a turn for the better and life was resuming some normalcy.
Chapter 6--Silver Lining
There was a new man in Elena's life, even though she never did marry again. This man, Ollie, was her brother. He had been searching for her for years and only recently had come to live in New York searching for his long lost little sister. After he had heard about everything she had been through, he was concerned that she might become the target of mafia related activity. The Time Piece Gang was known for being overly dramatic and aggressive like that, but Ronaldo had since moved on and he had never returned to the big city. As far as they knew, he had taken root in Chicago and was turning more profit in the south side of the metropolis. So long as he was making money, he would have no desire to return to the Big Apple. As far as Mrs. Clementi was concerned, the Windy City could keep him. Strangely enough, she had even forgiven him for what he had done. She had let his memory float away in the air, though. Since letting his memory flee, she had been much happier and even the children, who were now teenagers, had noticed.
Ollie was glad to act as a godfather to the children. They treated him more like their father rather than their uncle and he was honored by that. Ironically, Ollie had never been married and had secretly wanted children of his own, so apparently his prayers had been answered. Times had been harsh, but now nearly everything had returned to normal and the family would no longer have to worry about bills that hadn't been paid or health insurance that they could afford. They had gotten by with the dole, but thankfully now they were self-reliant and totally independent of others financial assistance.
Initially, Rodolpho met a rather gruesome end. There was one client who was tired of the Time Piece Gang taking all his revenue. Sick of putting up with Rodolpho's noncompliance and cavalier attitude, he hired a hit on Rodolpho and "Rolex" now rests in peace.
It was printed in black and white in every major newspaper. Ronaldo Roldolpho dies at 54. It listed cause of death as suicide for obvious reasons that no one knew about except for Elena. She knew someone else had rubbed Ronald out. She wasn't happy or sad about it. She was just relieved that her husband could finally have some peace and no longer have to worry about his honor. He had died honorably and his memory would be kept undefiled. He had lived a fairly clean life except for the fact he had killed quite a few people while he was alive. This, sadly, was the way of the gangster: kill or be killed. But, Elena had known this since she had become part of the underground lifestyle. All ties to that type of living had faded, and she lived normally with her daughter and son, who were now young adults. They were growing up, living in the world with their own families. Elena was now the proud grandmother of five little grandchildren who were all jewels in her family treasure chest. They knew their grandfather through stories that "Pahpaw" Ollie would recite every night for them before they went to bed after visiting.
One day coming home from the grocery store, Elena had passed the old Emerald Vase. It had seen better days. She had been keeping in touch with Mac Goldman by letters since Leo's death. The two were still close friends. After prohibition had ended and the bars became more plentiful, people found cheaper liquor stores and taverns and the Vase finally shut its doors. It was run down and overgrown with vines. Mac lived upstairs and Elena wondered if the old codger was still there. She knocked on the door and he hustled downstairs to open the heavy wooden entryway.
"Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes.", the elderly gentleman said, hugging her close with his wizened, leathery hands.
Former boss and songstress spent many long hours talking to each other. Mac had said he had seen her in passing with her children after Leo's death getting along superbly even though the hurt of losing him was apparent. After a long chat the two friends said their goodbyes and promised they would write to each other as long as they could.
"You know you're welcome to my home anytime.", Elena said, hugging the gray-haired, balding bartender once more. He was a bit bent from age and couldn't walk so well as he used to, but he was still sharp as a tack.
"Same goes for me, missy. And as far as I can hear, your pipes are remarkable.", Mac complimented. He kissed her forehead and bade her god speed as she left the tavern.
It is said that Elena lived to a ripe old age and the "legend" of Leonardo "Hands" Clementi; so called "Hands" because he had quick, devastating moves with any weapon he touched, faded into obscurity. Elena had died only recently, breaking the Guinness Book's record of "longest surviving woman". She had seen her children grow up and spoil many generations of grandchildren. Ollie had died before she had and he was buried in the same plot. To this day her many times great grandchildren come to pay their respects and recall the lady that gave them so much love, happiness and wisdom, passing it to the next generations. Leo, too, lives on, albeit in legend, but his reputation as a gentleman, as well as the deep devotion he had as a father remains unsullied. At long last, he and Elena rest in peace in tandem, existing in harmony forever.