The giant Chinese junk, decks swaying from a challenging voyage against the current from Santa Barbara to it’s destination in San Francisco Harbor, accommodated the captives in quarters on a lower deck, guarded twenty-four hours a day. The Tong had created tiny wooden cubicles to imprison those who were taken for the white slave trade, enemies awaiting punishment or, as in this case, valuable prisoners held for ransom. Each space had only a woven pallet on the floor and a fowl smelling whole in one corner that was a toilet. When they first arrived the guards removed their clothes, dowsed them with an odd smelling vinegary water solution then roughly drying them off dressed them in kimonos and locked them in the cells finally un-cuffed. Penny was afforded special treatment being tended by two homely women who provided some privacy from a large black silk sheet ornamented with an intricately stitched blood red dragon. She actually appeared unhurt and even defiant supported by an inner strength rightfully earned suffering the heinous abuse from her still legal husband.
The dark quarters were misty with smoke from numerous sticks of incense that the attendants continually replenished. This together with the shock and pain of his ordeal made Printise vomit often down the whole in his cage. He was clearly the worst for wear suffering chills and sweats secretly caused by withdrawals from probably a number of drugs that normally kept him going. The Captain was treated strangely different with a brusque but begrudging display of respect. He and Printise were far too hefty for the space and almost filled the little cell. Paco, in good condition, except for the raw wrists bruised and skinned by the cuffs, like the others, cooperated lest the captors follow out their threat to punish Penny. He appeared sullen, almost outwardly angry, a myriad of worries and questions passing through his mind as he sat cramped on the pallet.
The cages were set up in rows on both sides of the long space and some held other captives. Paco could see Printise across and down a bit but his Father and Penny were on the same side with him. They could talk but when they did it caused the guards to rise up with menacing gestures. After a time one of the women prepared noodles and tea on a tiny charcoal burner, slowly serving each prisoner in small paper cups, no utensils. After rocking and little sleeping for what seemed like hours the door opened and two intense Chinese men walked to the cage where Captain Oakley was kept. They were identical in every detail including their arrogant expressions. The Fong twins were viciously good-looking with fine aristocratic Asian features talking through aesthetically defined lips that were both sensual and sinister. They came to notify Oakley that the ransom had been paid and when the ship docked there would be a party waiting to take them, as it was described, to his most glorious Father, the Honored Don Signore Telchide Fazinatos. The change in treatment was astounding and all four of them stood up with surprise and elation. ‘They would be freed’, thought Paco, but he was dumbfounded with the additional news that he had a Grandfather?
Their clothing had been carefully washed and folded in neat little packages tied with black silk twine. Even Miss Penny’s harem dress was repaired and the bangles sewn back in place. As they alighted from the gangplank onto the dock there was a Chauffeur in classic navy blue livery standing in front of an enormous tan and black Pierce-Arrow Touring car. Behind that was a similar dark green sedan with four burly men in caps and long overcoats hovering nearby possibly hiding their firearms? They all acknowledged the Captain immediately with esteem more than courtesy, the Chauffeur even sporting a snappy salute. They boarded the luxurious auto putting Paco, Penny and Printise in the back and Oakley taking the front seat next to the driver. The engine was so loud they could barely converse. All the questions would need to wait for the time when they reached some destination unknown to the back seat passengers.
They drove through the city from the docks, over the newly constructed Bay Bridge, and then into the wooded countryside, heading north. After a time they pulled off the main road and traveled for many miles finally coming to large lacy iron gates with a red brick guard station topped by an elaborate roof in the center. Several armed men stepped out of the foliage on either side and came up to the cars for inspection. Upon recognizing Captain Oakley they also saluted and to Paco’s amazement one said, “Welcome home Boss”.
They were driving on the estate grounds now and Miss Penny along with Printise could only roll their eyes and stare intermittently at Paco with disbelief. The most surprised of all was Paco himself as he passed some of the most magnificent landscape imaginable. There were verdant wooded enclaves, an Italianate columned gazebo, oriental water gardens with a pagoda peeking above the foliage, at one point a small Ferris Wheel and possibly a merry-go-round, formal gardens on one side of the road and across the way, shining in the distance, the mirror like surface of a lake, an ornamental barge, decks outlined in fancy iron balustrades, floating in the center. The approach to the old Don’s manor house was jaw dropping. The light, fading now as evening approached, made the stately avenue of tall pointed blue-green Cyprus trees cast a remarkable row of shadows on the manicured lawns. Closer to the entrance a large stone surfaced driveway began, the perimeter planted in hedges enhanced by large terra cotta pots bearing small orange trees laden with fruit. This ended in a circle that had a carved stone fountain now bubbling with a nice water display. The building itself occupied an immense horizontal frontage with a two story segment in the center then continuing in a balanced design with single story segments and two story tower-like structures on either end. The architectural styling was definitely Italian Palazzo inspired, stately and stern with a soft ochre surface and many glossy black louvered shutters on the many carefully aligned windows.
Pulling up to the main portal the Captain alighted first and opened the door for Printise then helped Miss Penny out. Paco, leaving from the far side, followed the other three into the doors now opened by a butler with other domestics standing there visually happy to see Oakley alive. The floor of the entry hall was a striking harlequin patterned black and beige marble with a grand staircase in the Renaissance style, starting at the far right and turning to cross the space along the back wall then turning again to the second story on the left. The ceiling was domed with a remarkable painted sky element and polychromed architectural supports topped with a beautifully carved and gilded geometric icon from which suspended the Venetian glass fixture, really a fantasy art piece. The walls were covered with oil paintings of the finest quality by European Masters in handsome gilded frames. This attracted Paco immediately. The entire impression so far was that someone with a brilliant knowledge of art and architecture had created a masterpiece.
Captain Oakley directed the staff to help Miss Penny and the weakened Printise to their rooms that appeared to be upstairs in the wing to the right and then with utter seriousness he motioned for Paco to follow him down the corridor to the left saying, “Come, we have things to discuss”. The young man was so dazed and perplexed by all that had unfolded he obeyed without question. They walked along a wide hallway with gallery walls displaying portraiture that Paco would later learn portrayed many of his Italian ancestors. Opening one of the doors they entered the library, a dark wood paneled room with shelves of finely bound volumes and glowing glass show cases containing weapons and small sculptures even antique jewelry including curios from several centuries. Again there were paintings but here they were by modern artists. Paco recognized a Matisse and large de Chirico, even a bold black and yellow Leger picturing machinery with figures in an industrial landscape. He marveled at how it tricked the eye using a dramatic delineated vanishing point. The floor was parquet in a unique dimensional lattice pattern with several fine Persian carpets. The Captain walked around his ornate desk embellished with ormolu on curved cabriole legs. He motioned for Paco to take a seat across from him.
Standing, head down seemingly in shame, he began. “When your Mother and I married we were so deeply in love we ran away one weekend and secretly found a Justice for the ceremony then returned to our homes thinking we just needed a little time to become independent and begin our life together. Not long after this you were conceived and our plight became urgent. At this very moment my Mother, your Grandmother died and when this news reached Don Fazinatos, who thought he was my Father, I was abducted. He brought me here thinking he would at last have his son to partner with, an idea that my Mother strongly resisted through the years. He intended to teach me the business of the family, the operations of the syndicate that was at that time in a desperate battle with rival factions for ownership of territory and assets.”
Oakley sat down now and continued, his intelligent blue eyes meeting Pacos bewildered brown ones with a tender sensitivity. “Once I saw the sinister power and wealth of this organization it was apparent that I could not bring my beautiful Madonna or you into this life. At that time there were dark transactions and blatant criminal activities operating within the vast American association even including factions of ‘The Black Hand’. I never told the Don about my marriage or my son to keep you both safe. I have thought about you and prayed you were well every day of my life.” He shook his head in despair eyes now watery. “I wanted so much to see you grow and secretly I attended some of your Birthday picnics in the park. As time went on I served the Don, traveling back and forth to ports throughout Europe and Italy establishing a network of import and export activities that multiplied our holdings and wealth beyond imagination. There are continual competitors to deal with like the Fong Twins and old enemies who are always dangerous adversaries but now our operations are ethical without any involvement in the drug trade. Ethical, that is excluding some gambling and the issue of Prohibition”, he added with disdain. The Captain finished with a plea, “All I can do is tell you how much it grieves me to be apart from you and your Mother and to simply ask for your forgiveness. I know it must be so painful for you too. The Don, your Grandfather knows all about you now. I told him as soon as I knew I could trust him never to interfere. He is almost 100 years old and very weak. We do not think he has much time left. It would be an enormous thrill for him to meet you and see us together as Father and Son. I don’t want to force you. Take some time to think this over and just know I will always love you as I love my precious Madonna. And now you must call her and let her know you are safe.” With that he dialed the phone and waiting for a voice he handed the receiver to Paco who stammered still in shock, “Mama, Mama I am safe”.
After an emotional conversation and passing the phone to the Captain, he said, “She wishes to talk to you”. They were speaking in Italian that Paco only partially understood so he began to scan the objects in the cases. On several shelves there were collections of antique rosaries, some with jeweled crosses, rubies, emeralds and diamonds, but others were decorated with hand painted miniatures of the Saints or an intricately detailed Madonna with Child. Further on he found a case with Roman pottery. Each piece had a natural glossy surface in colors from light orange to a bright red. Some were detailed with dancers or warriors in a delicate raised relief. Paco was attracted by an antique Italian prayer book bound in fine black leather delicately embossed with gilded scrolls and gold edged pages. There was a pressed rose lying to one side and next to it he saw a small picture of a beautiful dark woman framed in gold on a tiny easel.
The Captain rose finishing his call with, “I’ll talk to Ludington right away”. He walked over to Paco and gently placing an arm over his shoulder, noticing what had captured his son’s attention, he said in his deep voice softly touched by an inherited Sicilian accent, “That is Innocenza, my Mother, your Grandmother. Now let us get you to your room to wash and rest before dinner.”
The idea that Oakley knew Ludington weighed heavily on the young man’s mind but he said nothing as he followed upstairs past a number of carved doors to one opened by the Captain who beckoned him inside. The room was painted soft grey with glossy white woodwork. Set into the paneling Paco marveled at a series of Venetian landscapes looking to be authentic pieces by Canaletto, considered among the greatest scenic painters ever known. A big bed had an Upholstered headboard in flaxen brocade that matched a long bench at the foot. Bed linens were bright white with a tailored grey embroidered trim. The chamber was masculine and so serene that as the Captain closed the door behind him, Paco dove into the silky sheets and passed out.
Several hours later he awoke to hear a round cheery woman asking him to rise and come to his bath. It was all in Italian so he needed to think it over. Looking up he watched her, crisp in a grey maid’s uniform with a white apron and lacy little coronet over her shiny black hair pulled back in a neat bun. She motioned at him and he followed. Walking into the sizable white tiled bathroom that he found warm, moist and fragrant from a huge iron tub filled with suds, he removed his clothes to lower himself into the soothing water. There was a silver handled shaving set laid out for him and he noticed a full suit of clothing on the chaise. Clean, refreshed with his hair carefully slicked back, he emerged from his room dangerously good-looking in a splendid tuxedo and velvet slippers.
Finding his way to the central landing, hearing voices from the corridor ahead Paco found Miss Penny and Printise likewise dressed in stunning formal attire giggling over some shared caprice. They all embraced and ushered by the Butler down on the main floor they entered a long dinning room. Like the entire mansion the style was lavish but at the same time spare. The ceiling was very tall and three lacy Venetian glass chandeliers hung over the long table from an ornamented coffered baldachin. The walls were pale sienna maybe even silk with a row of giant mirrors in plain gold frames on one wall reflecting the breathtaking light fixtures, creating an unforgettable illusion. Arched doors on the other wall hinted at the amazing view of the gardens now too dark to see. At the far end, featured with soft light, was an enormous oil painting of a group, mostly over plumped women, elaborately costumed, one feeding a parrot, in a wild Italian garden dining alfresco. Paco’s eyes landed on a beautifully painted pet monkey in a velvet suit playing with a string of pearls. He recognized the style from his recent studies in Art history and the huge canvas looked like it was painted by the Master Peter Paul Rubens. ‘How could this be here’, he thought, overwhelmed by the quality of the priceless pieces throughout the mansion. He was hopelessly dazzled now, really almost speechless. They were seated toward the far end in upholstered chairs of rust and cream stripe satin awaiting the head of the table who appeared, bowing slightly, taking his proper place. Captain Oakley, regal in his evening dress that was vaguely military in cut but all black, even his silk shirt and tie, was so impressive. His hair, perfectly in style, was slicked back accentuating his classical Roman features only made more handsome by the character lines forged from his years of dangerous engagements.
“I have contacted Mr. Ludington, I believe Printise, you spoke with him as well? He will arrive some time tomorrow to take you back to Montecito so for now please, let us enjoy the evening and in the morning I will give you a tour of the estate. It’s called ‘Mio Cuore’ and was created by Don Fasinatos many years ago when he fled from Italy. As a young man he was an instructor in The Accademia di Belle Arti in Firenze and sat as a Director of the Uffizi. Over time he brought architects and artisans from Florence to do the work. The Don himself with my help has amassed the collections of paintings and sculpture that you will see. He still retains a passionate love for this endeavor that he has passed on to me.” Then turning to Paco with a nod he continued, “I believe my son has inherited this obsession for the arts naturally?”
“Instructor at the Academia?” Paco murmured, his fork clattering as it dropped on the plate and his startled eyes now enormous. Miss Penny was bubbling over in French, raving about the sublime style of the mansion and it’s contents, whereupon Printise added his superlatives to make a little chorus of overwhelming approval that surpassed highest praise.