BETTER OFF DEAD: IN PARADISE (preview)

Chapter One

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It happened so fast. An instant of insanity. Like a show from hell. First, the car, parked, the engine running, a man behind the wheel. Then a madman with a gun. I watched, while standing close by, as Bobby "The Bull Dog" Vongemi obliterated the driver’s side window with an explosive punch of his fist. Then, in the blink of an eye there were five blasts from Bobby's gun into the man's head. I felt horrified, unable to move. Then, Bobby’s voice, loud in my ear, "Frankie, get us out of here! Now!"

He pushed the dead driver out of the way to the passenger side. The dead man had both his eyes and mouth frozen wide open. Bobby quickly shoved me into the driver’s seat.

"Frankie step on it!" he screamed as he jumped into the back seat. I put the white Town Car in gear and drove. As I looked through the blood-spattered windshield trying to see, my hands were bloody from the steering wheel filled with pieces of the man’s head that filled the dashboard.

"Faster! Drive faster, I hear sirens!" Bobby shouted.

I could see the patrol cars closing in as I floored the pedal.

"I can’t! I can’t do this!" I shouted as I made a sharp right, causing the dead man to lean against me. "No! No!" I screamed and cursed.

"Welcome to the Mafia, Frankie!" Bobby laughed in a sick sinister roar.

As the car went out of control and spun, I slammed into a telephone pole. Everything suddenly went black.

My eyes quickly opened and I studied the room. I slowly realized that it had been a nightmare. One of those dreams that leave you stunned for a full thirty seconds. The kind that convince you that you really had been killed. The kind of dream that leaves you soaked with perspiration that could easily pass for blood. I knew it to be a nightmare when I saw my nightstand. My eyes focused on the bed, the dresser, the clock radio—then I felt the rapid beating of my heart.

I looked over at Alicia, a beautiful woman even as she slept. I called her my Angel on earth. The clock showed 3:20 A.M., so I made no movement to disturb her.

I saw in the dim light of the nightlight the newspaper—the one I had been reading before I fell asleep, the one I’d read just before my nightmare. It all had to do with two Mafia brothers. As I looked at the paper, my breathing finally slowed to its normal rate. My turmoil started when I read about Tony Vongemi and his brother Bobby "The Bull Dog" Vongemi, the same Mafia family Alicia and I had escaped from almost two years earlier. Coincidentally, the story appeared on Saturday, August tenth, the first anniversary to the day of the sentencing of the Vongemi brothers. The same brothers who tried to kill me when they thought I would rat them out.

I couldn’t go back to sleep. I couldn’t forget what I had been through. It all came rushing back to me, flooding my mind with very bad memories. During my insurance career, I met Tony Vongemi, the restaurant owner who fed me insurance leads, and how some of those people I’d sold life insurance to started mysteriously dying. I’d come to realize that Tony had something to do with the deaths and fraudulently collected on the policies. After finding out that Tony and Bobby were running one of the most powerful Mafia families in New York, I felt I had to do something before they knocked me off. I did something radical—I planned my fictitious suicide in order to escape, but the FBI stepped in and put them behind bars. That’s when Alicia and I entered the Witness Protection Program.

Over 21 months ago, Alicia, an FBI agent, and I had fallen in love during the Vongemi fiasco. She had been working for the FBI and infiltrated the Vongemi Mafia family, working undercover for Tony Vongemi. We fell in love when she was checking up on my activities in the Bahamas for Vongemi. Alicia has been my whole life ever since I laid eyes on her. The Witness Protection Program relocated us to a small island called Barava, but part of the Cayman Islands.

At 4 A.M., I quietly got out of bed and took the newspaper to the living room. I felt a surge of adrenalin coursing through me. I would be twisting and turning in bed, and probably be waking Alicia, so I left to do some reading and thinking.

I settled on the couch and stared at the newspaper headline, "Mob Kingpins Will Die Behind Bars." I reread the headline. Something pulled at my heart. I realized it had to do with the whole business of our "disappearance." To the world, I was dead. I thought of my Mother, my sister, Candace, and my niece, Michelle. I missed them, along with my best friend, Paul. It’s one thing to move away from everyone on your own, but to leave the way I did wrenched at my heart. With the help of the FBI, I had carried out my own suicide. Even with the Vongemi brothers behind bars, they had Mafia connections who would come after us. My "suicide" was to be a way to keep them from coming after me.

My family, friends, and workers all believed I had killed myself by lunging from the top of a New York City skyscraper. I could not tell them the truth. If I said a word, it would put them and me in grave danger. The Vongemi Mafia family had to be convinced that I, Frank Granstino, was in fact dead. That I no longer would be a threat. With the immense resources of the FBI, we were able to achieve our goal: the death of Frank Granstino and the conviction of the Vongemi brothers through written and video evidence sent to the FBI before my supposed demise.

It had all worked beautifully. Tony and Bobby were behind bars. Meanwhile, Alicia and I remained tucked away on a tiny Cayman Island in the Caribbean Sea in a small five-room house. We had pulled it off. We thought I’d be fine, except we didn’t calculate my mental and emotional guilt. It took several months for me to slowly deal with the pain over leaving my loved ones and the pain they must have experienced thinking I had taken my life. If it weren’t for Alicia, I would have found living intolerable, especially for the pain and hurt I had caused my mother.

I hated every mobster ever born. I despised every tough guy that ever put the fear of death in another person. And I hated Tony Vongemi for sucking me, an unsuspecting young man, into his world of Mafia hell, where life meant nothing and each person was either shunted aside or killed. I was deep in thought, ruminating about all we had been through, when suddenly I saw Alicia. She sat next to me and kissed my cheek, and said, "Sweetie, why aren’t you in bed? It’s too early to get up."

"I’m sorry, I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to wake…"

"Frankie, I don’t want you to be consumed with this Vongemi thing. I realize it’s the anniversary of their sentencing, but we’ve got to try to forget."

Alicia kissed me on the lips and said, "They can’t hurt us anymore. They’re weak. The family has been dismantled. Tony and Bobby will die in prison."

"I know. It all just came back to me again."

"I know, Frankie. I miss my family very much, too. It will get better with time. I love you very much. We have each other now and we have a new-found family and friends here at Barava."

"Alicia, you are my whole world…"

"Come back to sleep, Frankie."

"I’ll be there in a few minutes."

"We start our vacation today. We’ll go to breakfast in the morning. It’s good that we chose this week. We can both use the rest, sweetie!" she smiled.

As she walked away, she left me smiling. I thought about our first meeting. It took place at the poolside of the Diamond Palace Hotel in the Bahamas. Alicia mesmerized me with her hazel eyes, long dark brown silky hair, sexy legs, and lissome body. She smiled and said, "Hi, Sweety."

"Do you know how beautiful you are in the morning?" I smiled.

"That's exactly why I love you," she laughed.

My eyes scanned the Daily News article again: "Major Blow for Organized Crime, as Tony Vongemi and Bobby "the Bull Dog," Mafia Kingpins of the Vongemi crime family, rot in prison. A major turf war has left the Vongemi family weak."

The News went on to explain how the Ribolli crime family rubbed out Vongemi’s best earner, Vinny "The Fingers" Sandotto, who controlled the Sheepshead Bay area casino ships, restaurants, and businesses in Brooklyn. Vinny "The Fingers" got blown away by some rival mobsters just as he started eating his favorite meal, scungilli, at a seafood restaurant in Sheepshead Bay. The Ribolli family quickly moved into his territory and took control.

The Vongemi family fought back by fire bombing a Ribolli family hangout, killing all three Ribolli soldiers in the building. The Mob war continued when another Vongemi earner, Richie "No Neck" Brachi got blown to smithereens by a car bomb. Brachi, the next in line, now ran the Vongemi family, or what was left of it, while Tony Vongemi and Bobby were in prison.

The article said the Vongemi brothers, while imprisoned for the past 21 months, were down to a skeleton crew. Tony had become a model prisoner, reading many books in the prison library. Bobby "the Bull Dog," on the other hand, has been like a wounded bear, ready to pounce on anyone and anything that moves. They will no doubt die in New York’s notorious Sing Sing prison, a prison that has held well-known criminals since 1825.

Bobby the Bull Dog is accused by the government of killing fifteen men. He is now in solitary confinement, mostly to protect the other prisoners from his violent temper. After he was in prison for six months and right after the Ribolli family rubbed out the Vongemi top earner, Bobby lost control and killed another inmate over an apparently minor incident of bumping into him, which set him into a rage. Bobby stabbed him fourteen times before the guards pulled him off. His weapon had been a toothbrush filed down to a knifepoint. The paper said that a guard made the comment that the Bull Dog was "one whacked-out cookie," and that "he stabbed the guy so many times, you think he was tenderizing a steak," and "Bobby looked like he was ready to tear the guy’s heart out and eat it."

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