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Книга The Godfather. Страница 89

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Fabrizzio started to say something but Michael gave him one look and the shepherd’s tongue froze in his mouth. This was not lost on Vitelli. So when Michael stood up and stretched out his hand, the cafe owner took it and smiled. He would make some inquiries and if the answers were wrong he could always greet Michael with his two sons bearing their own shotguns. The cafe owner was not without his contacts among the “friends of the friends.” But something told him this was one of those wild strokes of good fortune that Sicilians always believed in, something told him that his daughter’s beauty would make her fortune and her family secure. And it was just as well. Some of the local youths were already beginning to buzz around and this stranger with his broken face could do the necessary job of scaring them off. Vitelli, to show his goodwill, sent the strangers off with a bottle of his best and coldest wine. He noticed that one of the shepherds paid the bill. This impressed him even more, made it clear that Michael was the superior of the two men who accompanied him.

Michael was no longer interested in his hike. They found a garage and hired a car and driver to take them back to Corleone, and some time before supper, Dr. Taza must have been informed by the shepherds of what had happen. That evening, sitting in the garden, Dr. Taza said to Don Tommasino, “Our friend got hit by the thunderbolt today.”

Don Tommasino did not seem surprised. He grunted. “I wish some of those young fellows in Palermo would get a thunderbolt, maybe I could get some peace.” He was talking about the new-style Mafia chiefs rising in the big cities of Palermo and challenging the power of old-regime stalwarts like himself.

Michael said to Tommasino, “I want you to tell those two sheep herders to leave me alone Sunday. I’m going to go to this girl’s family for dinner and I don’t want them hanging around.”

Don Tommasino shook his head. “I’m responsible to your father for you, don’t ask me that. Another thing, I hear you’ve even talked marriage. I can’t allow that until I’ve sent somebody to speak to your father.”

Michael Corleone was very careful, this was after all a man of respect. “Don Tommasino, you know my father. He’s a man who goes deaf when somebody says the word no to him. And he doesn’t get his hearing back until they answer him with a yes. Well, he has heard my no many times. I understand about the two guards, I don’t want to cause you trouble, they can come with me Sunday, but if I want to marry I’ll marry. Surely if I don’t permit my own father to interfere with my personal life it would be an insult to him to allow you to do so.”

The capo-mafioso sighed. “Well, then, marriage it will have to be. I know your thunderbolt. She’s a good girl from a respectable family. You can’t dishonor them without the father trying to kill you, and then you’ll have to shed blood. Besides, I know the family well, I can’t allow it to happen.”

Michael said, “She may not be able to stand the sight of me, and she’s a very young girl, she’ll think me old.” He saw the two men smiling at him. “I’ll need some money for presents and I think I’ll need a car.”

The Don nodded. “Fabrizzio will take care of everything, he’s a clever boy, they taught him mechanics in the navy. I’ll give you some money in the morning and I’ll let your father know what’s happening. That I must do.”

Michael said to Dr. Taza, “Have you got anything that can dry up this damn snot always coming out of my nose? I can’t have that girl seeing me wiping it all the time.”

Dr. Taza said, “I’ll coat it with a drug before you have to see her. It makes your flesh a little numb but, don’t worry, you won’t be kissing her for a while yet.” Both doctor and Don smiled at this witticism.

By Sunday, Michael had an Alfa Romeo, battered but serviceable. He had also made a bus trip to Palermo to buy presents for the girl and her family. He had learned that the girl’s name was Apollonia and every night he thought of her lovely face and her lovely name. He had to drink a good deal of wine to get some sleep and orders were given to the old women servants in the house to leave a chilled bottle at his bedside. He drank.it empty every night.

On Sunday, to the tolling of church bells that covered all of Sicily, he drove the Alfa Romeo to the village and parked it just outside the cafe. Calo and Fabrizzio were in the back seat with their luparas and Michael told them they were to wait in the cafe, they were not to come to the house. The cafe was closed but Vitelli was there waiting for them, leaning against the railing of his empty terrace.

They shook hands all around and Michael took the three packages, the presents, and trudged up the hill with Vitelli to his home. This proved to be larger than the usual village hut, the Vitellis were not poverty-stricken.

Inside the house was familiar with statues of the Madonna entombed in glass, votive lights flickering redly at their feet. The two sons were waiting, also dressed in their Sunday black. They were two sturdy young men just out of their teens but liking older because of their hard work on the farm. The mother was a vigorous woman, as stout as her husband. There was no sign of the girl.

After the introductions, which Michael did not even hear, they sat in the room that might possibly have been a living room or just as easily the formal dining room. It was cluttered with all kinds of furniture and not very large but for Sicily it was middle-class splendor.

Michael gave Signor Vitelli and Signora Vitelli their presents. For the father it was a gold cigar-cutter, for the mother a bolt of the finest cloth purchasable in Palermo. He still had one package for the girl. His presents were received with reserved thanks. The gifts were a little too premature, he should not have given anything until his second visit.

The father said to him, in man-to-man country fashion, “Don’t think we’re so of no account to welcome strangers into our house so easily. But Don Tommasino vouched for you personally and nobody in this province would ever doubt the word of that good man. And so we make you welcome. But I must tell you that if your intentions are serious about my daughter, we will have to know a little more about you and your family. You can understand, your family is from this country.”

Michael nodded and said politely, “I will tell you anything you wish to know anytime.”

Signor Vitelli held up a hand. “I’m not a nosy man. Let’s see if it’s necessary first. Right now you’re welcome in my house as a friend of Don Tommasino.”

Despite the drug painted inside his nose, Michael actually smelled the girl’s presence in the room. He turned and she was standing in the arched doorway that led to the back of the house. The smell was of fresh flowers and lemon blossoms but she wore nothing in her hair of jet black curls, nothing on her plain severe black dress, obviously her Sunday best. She gave him a quick glance and a tiny smile before she cast her eyes down demurely and sat down next to her mother.

Again Michael felt that shortness of breath, that flooding through his body of something that was not so much desire as an insane possessiveness. He understood for the first time the classical jealousy of the Italian male. He was at that moment ready to kill anyone who touched this girl, who tried to claim her, take her away from him. He wanted to own her as wildly as a miser wants to own gold coins, as hungrily as a sharecropper wants to own his own land. Nothing was going to stop him from owning this girl, possessing her, locking her in a house and keeping her prisoner only for himself. He didn’t want anyone even to see her. When she turned to smile at one of her brothers Michael gave that young man a murderous look without even realizing it. The family could see it was a classical case of the “thunderbolt” and they were reassured. This young man would be putty in their daughter’s hands until they were married. After that of course things would change but it wouldn’t matter.

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