A KILLING BEFORE KICK-OFF…It’s July 1966 – and England is football crazy as fans cheer their team on to win the World Cup.There are millions who’d kill for a ticket to the final in London’s Wembley Stadium. Then café owner Sergio Parisi is found murdered in his own kitchen – and his World Cup Final ticket missing. As Evening Chronicle crime reporter Colin Crampton chases down the story, he discovers the ticket theft could be part of an even deadlier crime. There are laughs alongside the thrills as England closes in on victory – and Colin, with his feisty girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith, close in on the killer.
It’s July 1966. Crime reporter Colin Crampton and his feisty girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith have helped Rosina Cavaletto run away from her brutal husband Brando, who wants to kill her. The only way Colin can prevent that is if he finds Brando before Brando finds Rosina. Now read on…
If Brando Cavaletto was hiding out in Brighton, the man who would know was Marco Fratelli.
In my book, Fratelli was a good man gone bad. He’d been a member of the small Italian resistance, fighting the Nazis, during the war. The Nazis had continued to occupy Italy after the country ceased to be Hitler’s ally in 1943. I’d heard Fratelli had been fearless as an undercover agent. Risked his life several times to rescue innocent men and women from the Gestapo. Was one of the group of partisans who hung Mussolini’s dead body upside down from a garage’s metal girder in the Piazzale Loreto, Milan.
But peacetime didn’t suit him. In the early nineteen-fifties he’d moved from Italy to Britain, where the risks were less and the rewards greater. He ran a little ristorante called Casa Marco in Kemptown, at the eastern end of Brighton. It occupied a run-down building in an alleyway that linked two backstreets. The joint had no fancy fascia. No neon lights. No menu in the window. The notice in the front door always read: CLOSED.
In short, the place wasn’t easy to find. That was the whole point. Fratelli didn’t want walk-ins.
The guys who got inside usually had fat wallets when they entered. Not so bulky on the way out. They’d have lost their cash in the card game that went on in the back room. Or in sampling the dolce vita upstairs with one of Fratelli’s girls at five pounds a time.
It was just after nine when I stepped inside. The place was crowded but the conversation subdued. A fug of cigarette smoke hung in the air. The red wall lamps flickered through a thin mist. Candles on the tables guttered as a draught followed me in from the open door. Thoughtfully, I closed it.
At a table near the door, a bloke with greying sideburns nuzzled close to a girl with dangly earrings and a lot of lipstick. His left hand held a smouldering Havana cigar. Possibly one of those reputedly rolled between the thighs of virgins. His right hand caressed the girl’s thigh. Or perhaps he was just fumbling for another cigar.
Fratelli was leaning on the bar, a flash chrome job trimmed with plush red velvet. Gilt-edged mirrors lined the wall. All the better to let Fratelli see what was going on without turning round.
He was talking to a tall bloke with fair hair and a conspicuous bald patch. The bald bloke had a girl clinging possessively to each arm. (Ten pounds unless the pair gave him a discount for a bulk buy – or Green Shield stamps.)
As I crossed the room, the bloke nodded to Fratelli and guided the girls to the stairs which led to the rooms upstairs.
I moved alongside Fratelli and nodded towards the retreating bloke.
“Another satisfied customer, Marco?”
Fratelli grinned. “He will be.”
I said: “Mine’s a gin and tonic.”
Fratelli gave the order to the barman. “With one ice cube and two slices of lemon.”
“And in honour of Garibaldi’s birthday, make it a double gin,” I added.
Fratelli frowned. “You’re too late. Giuseppe Garibaldi, the great Italian patriot, was born on the fourth of July.”
“I was referring to the date when the biscuits were first made,” I said.
The barman put my drink in front of me. I hoisted the glass and gave it the punishment it merited.
“I assume you haven’t come in to waste my time with facts about biscuits?” Fratelli said.
“Of course not. Although I could mention that Garibaldis were first made by a man called Jonathan Carr in 1861. I’m surprised he didn’t name them after himself. But, then, perhaps he knew they’d end up being called dead-fly biscuits.”
I took another pull at my gin and tonic. “There’s a man called Brando Cavaletto in town. Do you know where he is?”
Fratelli considered the point. Raised his glass. Found it was empty. Looked for the barman who’d disappeared. Put the empty glass down heavily.
“Who is this Cavaletto?” he asked.
“He’s the son-in-law of Sergio Parisi.”
That had Fratelli’s attention.
“The Crawley café owner who was murdered?” he asked.
“The very same.”
“You’re not suggesting this Cavaletto did the killing?”
“Because I do not harbour murderers.”
“I always knew you had standards. Does that mean you observe the Fifth Commandment?”
“Thou shalt not kill. As far as possible.”
“Don’t feel you have to commit yourself.”
“I never do.”
I said: “Sergio’s daughter Rosina is married to Cavaletto. They lived in Sicily. But not happily. Cavaletto beat her.”
“I do not approve of husbands beating their wives,” Fratelli said.
“I’ll pass the word. The point is Rosina has left Brando and now Brando is threatening to kill her.”
“It is a Sicilian tradition that when a wife runs from her husband, he is shamed. He has no choice but to kill her.”
“And we can’t have a young woman’s life getting in the way of ancient traditions. The point is that as far as Rosina is concerned, I’d like to avoid that tradition.”
Fratelli nodded. “Me, too. But the fact is I do not know where this Brando Cavaletto is.”
“But you’ll make enquiries?”
“Possibly. I’m a busy man.” He waved his arm airily around. “As you can see.”
I nodded. “Yes, la dolce vita is hard work. Profitable, too. Especially when you can get a drink.”
The barman had returned. Fratelli frowned and pointed at his empty glass.
As the barman poured a fresh drink, I said: “There’s one thing I’ve always wondered, Marco. How do you keep this place running without interference from the cops? It’s not through payoffs, is it?”
“Brighton cops are not worth the money,” Fratelli said. “But as to how I keep it running… Well, a clever signore like you should be able to work that out. Take care.”
I had been dismissed.
I gave Fratelli a friendly nod and headed for the door.
Thank you, Peter Bartram and Random Things Tours
About the Author
Peter Bartram brings years of experience as a journalist to his Crampton of the Chronicle crime series – which features crime reporter Colin Crampton in 1960s Brighton. Peter has done most things in journalism from door-stepping for quotes to writing serious editorials. He’s interviewed cabinet ministers and crooks – at least the crooks usually answer the questions, he says.