Read chapter One from Silverfinger

Chapter 1

Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library

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Evil walked ahead of me on six feet. Evil was in the shape of three men, each a member of the vast Mafia family that extends across half the globe. They were faceless in the black shadows, their bodies clad in the blue denim trousers and work-shirts of the Della Fanzio Shipyard crews, with worn jackets over the shirts. Yet they carried little black bags, something no shipyard worker ever does, and in those bags were bombs.

It was my job to stop them. As a part of that job, I had to kill.

Me, I’m Cherry Delight, an agent for the New York Mafia Prosecution and Harassment Organization—more commonly called N.Y.M.P.H.O.—and my bare feet moved on ground that belonged to the Della Fanzio Corporation, which controlled. shipyards and allied construction sites, freighters and tankers almost rivaling the possessions of Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos. This shipyard through which I now walked was located in Calabria, that part of Italy known as its toe.

I wore the gaily colored peasant blouse and skirt of the Italian country girl. My legs were bare, no shoes or stockings on, I was posing as the little contadina I was dressed to represent.

The night was warm, I was glad I wore only panties and bra under those peasant clothes. The moon was a big silver ball overhead, and the few clouds scudding low before the ponente wind sweeping in from the Mediterranean gave the night a touch of wild, eerie splendor. A good night for murder, I thought.

The men up ahead of me did not suspect they were being tailed. They moved cautiously out of respect for the lone guard who patrolled these premises at night, not from any fear of me. I could see their shadows grow and then lessen on the building walls past which they moved, and from time to time I stepped into the shadows myself as they halted to look around them and to listen.

Their goal was the beautiful new luxury liner, the Condottiero, that was even now nearing Completion on the great ways that held its bulk towering upward into the night. It loomed gigantic above us, its lone smokestack a curved aerodynamic triumph of naval architecture. My eyes touched that bit of superstructure and saw the glass-enclosed cocktail lounge behind the huge stack. If the Mafia boys in front of me had their way, nobody would ever sip Sazeracs or Martinis from that vantage point.

The men moved across an open space in full moonlight.

They walked swiftly, but not at a run. They were big men, trained to do the job they’d been selected to do, and were fully confident that they would carry it off without a hitch. Even if they had known I was after them, I’m sure they would have been just as easy in their minds.

What did they have to fear from an Italian peasant girl?

Only I wasn’t just a simple country chick. I know how to kill in at least a dozen ways, without guns or knives. My hands and feet are lethal weapons. I can use a revolver or a rifle or a knife, but when I have to kill quietly, secretly, my hands and feet are all I need.

They were nearing the basin-way now, that giant scoop in the ground, lined by solid cement walls, that can be flooded to float a ship down into the open water. Ahead of them was a flight of stairs that lead to a long walkway which would take them to the ship itself, now almost completed. Once they were on that ship, I would have a damn tough time stopping them from hiding a bomb.

But if I moved in on them now, I would be a sitting duck for a bullet. Each of those men carried a revolver or automatic; they’d feel naked without one. And I had no weapon but my lightly clad girl-girl body.

Just the same, I had to take the chance.

I pattered after them on dirty feet. They were moving up the steps and along that walkway. The moon was bright, it would show me almost as clearly as a flood-lamp. Just the same. . . .

My bare feet took me up the treads. I ran with my head low, crouched down and holding my breath against a sudden yell or curse which would tell me I had been discovered. My heart slammed in my rib-cage, I came out on the walkway just as the three men were about to step down into the basin way.

The last man turned his head. His eyes locked with mine. For a moment, my heart stopped. I was walking forward, and my face was a frozen mask. All the button-man had to do was reach inside his jacket —I could see the straps of his shoulder holster in the moonlight—bring out his gun and put a couple of lead slugs in me.

He stood motionless, faintly scowling. And so I put a false smile on my features and let my hips swing sensuously, while at the same time my breasts bobbled enticingly. I tossed my head so my long red hair, worn loosely so it fell down my back almost to my behind, could sparkle a little in the moonlight.

“Non posso dormire, I said brightly, “I can’t sleep. I thought I’d go for a walk and see if I could tire myself out.”

I was pretty close, by this time. The man was husky and his pig eyes roamed over my body as if he were tearing of the blouse and skirt and seeing me in bra and panties.

I enjoyed his stare for two reasons. First of all, it meant that I still had the old sex appeal, which is important to any woman. Even more important was the fact that his stare told me he didn’t regard me as dangerous.

“You want to come with me and help me go to sleep?” I wheedled. My hands went to the shirt buttons. One by one, I undid them until my blouse was hanging open.

His pig eyes were there where my overlarge tits burst up out of the black Olga bra like white balloons. My breast flesh quivered as I walked, my mammaries bounced up and down and sideways; I like a loose brassiere that doesn’t keep me from bobbling.

He growled, “Beat it, putana. I got no time for you.”

I simpered, “I know you’re an important person. You must be one of the executives, hey?” My hand gestured at the black bag.

“Yeah, I’m important. I got work to do. Now get lost.”

My eyes slid past him, down along the metal walk that curved around the inside of the basin way. On a landing down there the two other Mafia boys were waiting, faces upturned toward us. They were standing there with their hands inside their jackets, waiting to see what would happen.

One of them said to the other, “It’s some whore that followed us. She wants to get laid.”

The other grinned, “Maybe after we get the job done, the three of us take her on.”

They didn’t suspect a thing. After all, my mind told me, there was no reason for them to be suspicious. I was just a pretty girl, I certainly had no weapons stashed away on the body they could see pretty clearly in the blouse and skirt. Their dirty minds had me tabbed as a bagascia in need of a sleeping partner.

I pretended I hadn’t heard them, I gave all my attention to the man in front of me. I figured he wouldn’t yank a gun on me if I yanked out my female guns on him. So I put a hand to the bra cup containing my left breast and slowly pulled it out-ward.

My big nipple plopped into the moonlight, a dark circle on the pale mound of my titty. The man gawked and gulped. His tongue came out to slide around his lips.

Then I put my hands on the other cup and pulled that down. Both my breasts were naked, and men have told me I possess beautiful milk jugs. Very gently I turned down the bra cups and tucked them under each breast so that they pushed them up and outward. I put my hands on my hips and did a modified shimmy.

Naturally, this made my breasts jump and sway.

“You like?” I breathed.

“Yeah, Sure!” One of the men on the walk below us yelled, “Christ—sakes, Tony! Get rid of her. We got things to do. Tell her to go outside and wait for us. We’ll meet her at the gate.”

The button-man growled, “You heard him, honey. Now beat it.”

I moved closer, my hands going to his jacket lapels, opening them so I could rub my breasts against his shirted chest. I nudged him between the thighs and found that his shaft was responding nobly to the sight of my partial nakedness.

“Take the night off,” I whispered, lifting my mouth.

My thigh stroked his growing erection. His hands came up to catch my wrists. He started to push me away. For a few seconds we struggled, with me pretending outrage.

“You don’t think I’m good enough for you, hey? You think just because I’m a poor working girl, you’re a lot better than I am, hey?”

I was screeching out loud like a fishwife. The two Mafia men on the walk below us were just about dying. So far they hadn’t suspected a thing, but in a moment they were going to have their eyes opened, because while we struggled, I was moving sideways on the walkway so that its banister nudged my backside. I was pretending to be furious, snapping my teeth at the man who was getting angrier by the second and was beginning to exert his full strength.

I waited a few more seconds, then acted. My bare feet took a sidestep, I got out of the way of his lunge, and at the same time threw my weight against his back. He went through the wooden banister as though it was made of matchwood. There was the sound of splitting, rending wood and then the guy screamed out loud and with the fear of death in his throat.

It was a long fall to the ground. We were up pretty high. I took what was meant to be a horrified look at him where he lay crushed on the ground, then whirled and ran along the walk toward the edge of the basin-way.

The men below me were staring up at me with bulging eyes. One of them yanked out a Beretta pistol. His companion cursed him, knocked his arm aside, said something under his breath I couldn’t make out.

“It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t my fault.” I sobbed, going down the walkway treads two at a time.

I ran for them, my bare breasts swinging like crazy.

Maybe I’m a pretty good actress, or maybe the sight of my white milk jugs held them in a spell because they let me get real close before they did anything.

Then one of them stepped forward and slammed the back of his hand at my face. He was half out of his skull with rage. Here he’d taken a contract to plant bombs in the Condottiero, and a stupid female whore was upsetting everything that would put money in his pocket.

I caught his wrist to lessen the blow, but I let him sock it to me. My head jerked back, I made tears come into my eyes as I clung with both hands to his.

“Don’t hit me again,” I begged. “It wasn’t my fault. I just wanted to earn some lire so I could eat tomorrow. I haven’t eaten all day and I’m hungry. Please, don’t hit me again!”

“Stupid ass woman!” He quieted a little, looked at his companion for a suggestion as to what to do with me. This third man was gaping at me with bulging eyes, he had a horse-face and about as much brains as a titmouse.

The man whose wrist I clung to said, “I ought to kill you! As it is, there’s going to be a police investigation and I’ll have to turn you over to the carabiniere!”

Not that. No I wept, I pleaded. My moans and wails lifted into the otherwise silent night like a weak siren. I was sure the guard must hear them, and so did my two Mafia button-men, because one of then clamped a hand over my mouth and hissed in my ear.

“Silenzio, silenzio! Must you wake the dead with your wails? Keep quiet, idiot bitch, and we’ll hire you.”

We stared at each other while I put a smile on my over-lipsticked mouth. “You will? You aren’t just saying that? I’m good, lots of fellows have told me how good I am at making love.”

“Yeah, yeah. Sure. Just keep quiet and—come along.”

Horseface went ahead of us at a gesture from the man whose wrist I was just releasing. Obviously this second character was the boss of the job. I figured him for all the brains, therefore, the more dangerous of the two. His hand turned me, pushed me ahead of him.

I could read his mind as if he’d spoken out loud. He was going to escort me into the bowels of the big luxury liner that was almost completed, and where he put his bombs—gelignite, in all probability—he was going to tie me up and leave me for the bombs to blow to smithereens. It was sure a good way of getting rid of me.

The only trouble with his plan was, I was no stupid ass contadina to fall for it. So I made my own plans as I walked along on my bare little feet, hips swaying and naked breasts bouncing, like the lamb to the slaughter.

We came off the walkway and onto the ship itself.

The deck was vast and deserted. The moonlight made a silver radiance on the highly polished brass ports and decorations. It was a beautiful, lovely liner, it deserved better than the fate the Mafia boys had planned for it.

I waited until we came to the companionway. When I fight, I like a lot of room to move around. In a narrow space, these buttons’ heavier and greater muscles might pin me into a corner and subdue me by sheer force of numbers. So as Horseface reached out to open a door, I put my hands on the middle of his back and shoved.

His face hit the metal door hard. I wasn’t waiting to see what happened to him, I was whirling on a vastly surprised man at my back. My hands went to his coat lapels, fastened and tugged. At the same time I stepped sideways and put out my right leg. He tripped over my leg and fell.

My right hand slid into his flying jacket, my fingers tightened on his gun-butt. I yanked it out.

The two men were hard-cases, they were used to doing Mafia dirty work, to beating up helpless men and women. They had good reaction impulses. They swung around almost at the same time and came for me.

Maybe they didn’t even see the Beretta. They were insane with rage, a red haze must have floated before their eyes. By my action, I’d tipped them of that I was something more than a whore, and I think that right about now they must have realized I’d killed their companion, not by accident, but willfully and with malice aforethought…

The knowledge didn’t do them any good. My finger tightened on the trigger. I pumped two bullets into Horseface, rocking him back against the side of the cabin, and then the other one was on me. His lunge carried me back off my feet.

I swung the gun around until it was jammed against his ribs and began firing.

He was dead from the first bullet, but the other two that went into him were insurance. He was limp and lifeless on top of me. I slid out from under him, made it to my feet.

I heard a voice shouting. At the moment, I didn’t want the guard to find me here, not that I expected to be held by the Italian police, who work closely with N.Y.M.P.H.O. To break the power of the Mafia, but because I didn’t want any publicity. If the newspapers plastered my face across their front pages—wham-mo!—there went my chances to stay on this case involving the della Fanzio family. And I desperately wanted to stay. It was a biggie.

So when I heard the guard, I grabbed up the two black bags and ran down the deck quietly as my shadow on the cabin walls. I kept the black bags for evidence to show to Rafaelo della Fanzio, the head of the family now that old Claudio was dead.

The guard came up onto the deck, took one horrified look at the two dead bodies, and bolted. Headed for the nearest telephone, I figured. So when he went out of view, I came back into sight and ran for the walkway.

My job here was done. The Mafia would not bomb the Condottiero tonight—or any other night, now, because the guard would be tripled, if I had my way—and I had the proof I needed to show the della Fanzios.

We N.Y.M.P.H.O. agents were having problems with Rafaelo della Fanzio, he was showing a yellow streak when it came to trading punches with the Mafia. In a way, I couldn’t blame him, because the Mafia had gotten its start in Sicily, right across the Strait of Messina from Calabria, where the della Fanzios had their holdings, and the memory of those early, terrible years must have been implanted on his mind.

But he would listen to reason. I hoped. I moved along the basin walkway onto the wooden one from which I’d pushed one of the button-men to his death. He still lay sprawled below me as I ran, and I realized that the police would find him, too. They’d also get his little black bag that held bombs, and would know who the men were and why they had come to the shipyards. What I was hoping desperately is that they wouldn’t find out who killed them.

Back through the shadows of the cranes and buildings I raced, toward the little Fiat two-seater I was using in this corner of the world. The top of the convertible was up, I would be hidden from view inside. I ran, keeping always to the darker shadows, until the car was right in front of me.

I dove in, tossing the black bags on the other seat. Then the motor was purring sweetly, I was shifting gears and moving into the road past the shipyards. As I pulled away, I could hear the police sirens.

I drove swiftly along the narrow, deserted roads of southern Calabria, past olive groves that raised the gnarled, twisted branches of their trees toward the moon. Here and there were blacker outlines against the softer tints of the sloping hillsides, tiny farmhouses where the country people slept without a worry about the Mafia.

As the car purred through the darkness, I reflected on the circumstances that had brought me from my pad on upper Park Avenue to this corner of my world, The della Fanzio family had invested money in Calabrian shipyards after the second World War. The shipyards had prospered along with northern Italy, which had become the industrial center of the country. The della Fanzios had built freighters and tankers; they paid cheaper salaries to their workers—Calabria is not a rich section of Italy, and the salaries the workers received were more than adequate in their eyes—and they made use of certain mines and other properties they owned in Africa to lower the cost of their raw materials.

In something less than thirty years, old Claudio della Fanzio had quadrupled his fortune. He ranked only slightly behind Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos as a shipping magnate. And when a man made money like that, in Italy, inevitably he attracted the greedy eyes of the Mafia.

Old Claudio had been a lion of a man, big and fleshy, fearless. He scoffed at the Mafia, he hired gunmen to shoot them down when they came nosing about his properties.

Then the old man died, and his sons and daughter inherited.

There were two sons, Rafaelo and Mario, and a daughter named Ines. They were very modern in their thinking, they enjoyed their villa and their speedboats, their Porsches and Ferraris. They threw out-a-site parties, they mingled with the great and the near-great.

Life was a ball, for them. And then the threats began. At first they were the old-fashioned kind, with a black hand printed on a slip of white paper. To Ines and Rafaelo and Mario, these were jokes. They had not the knowledge of their father and of his father; of the crude effectiveness of the Black Hands. To then the Mafia was a word. It did not touch their way of life.

Then the bombings began. A tanker was sunk in the Red Sea, carrying oil from Saudi Arabia back to Calabria; two freighters were lost in mid-Atlantic. The threats grew more ominous. The Mafia could make more bombs than the della Fanzios could make ships. So be warned. Either cut in the Mafia as partners—which meant that the Mafia would get about twenty or thirty percent of the gross profits without doing anything more to earn it than deposit it in their banks—or see the della Fanzio shipyards go up in flames, their tankers and freighters sunk in deep waters with all hands on board.

N.Y.M.P.H.O. has many branches in all parts of the world. Word of what was happening to the della Fanzios came to our headquarters in New York. And since I can speak Italian like a native, my real name being Priscilla Delissio, I was chosen to hotfoot it over here and put my Mafia-fighting experience to the test.

Avery King, who is head of N.Y.M.P.H.O., also sent along Mark Condon, my contact man with the organization, to act as liaison between me and headquarters. Mark was at the della Fanzio villa waiting for me, acting his part of international playboy and doing a bit of Mafia-spying on his own.

I settled my cute little behind more firmly in the Fiat’s bucket seat, feeling good all over. I had done my job perfectly, I had the proof I needed in the two black bags on the other seat. My hands steered the wheel without effort, I was highly pleased with myself. I had just dealt the Mafia a body blow.

The villa showed before me, high on a Calabrian hilltop, its gray stone walls stark and brooding against the starry sky. It was like a baronial castle, with turrets, crenelated walls, and narrow slots in the stone through which archers used to shoot arrows in the long-ago time. There were a few fireplaces scattered throughout that stone pile, but they were rarely used, the Calabrian climate being mild and balmy even in the winter. For most of the year, to my way of thinking, it is downright hot. And that heat is added to by the sifianto wind, not to mention the suffocating sirocco that sometimes blows across the sea from north Africa.

There were lights in the lower parts of the house as I pulled in the drive. A conference of war, I told myself. Mark Condon was there with the della Fanzios, explaining why we were in Italy, why we were offering our services. N.Y.M.P.H.O. does not charge for its services, they are offered to any in need; and the tab is picked up by our government as part of its crime fighting programs.

A man was walking back and forth as I braked the Fiat to a halt near some neatly cropped bushes. My eyes told me it was Mark Condon even as my hand went out for the two black bags.

“Hi, Mark,” I caroled. “Mission accomplished, and all that jazz.”

He glowered at me, throwing away his cigarette. “Pack your things, honey. We’re flying home as soon as I can make reservations on the first plane out of Rome.”

My heart sank. “Flying home? I’ve only begun!” His grin was cold. “The della Fanzios are throwing in the towel. They say they want no part of us. They’re going to give into the Mafia demands.”

I was beaten before I’d even started.

cherry delight silverfinger gardner f fox ebook paperback novel kurt brugel kindle gardner francis fox men's adventure library