If you know anything about me, you know I love company. I love to bring people into my home and serve them tasty treats from my kitchen. Maybe we’ll sit on the back porch and talk about life, maybe I’ll take you out on a horse and show you the beautiful Ocala Forrest. So with all that in mind, this invitation is for you to come and read a few chapters of Messina, if you haven’t already. The lead characters are Giovanni Castello, a prodigal son looking for answers and Lucille James, (named for my maternal grandmother, FYI) a young woman, passionate in her love of life and service to God. Giovanni is a typical Sicilian. I’ll let you figure that out for yourself, and Lucy, well, I think you’ll love her!  So here you go, Messina; Book 1 The Casa Bella Chronicles, chapters 1 – 3. I’ve copied it straight from my final edit, so you’ll see the publishers marks. Enjoy..

Messina: Book 1, The Casa Bella Chronicles

Messina, Sicily December 28th, 1908. Seventy thousand people never woke up. Of the first sixty days after the catastrophe it rained forty-five, making rescue extremely hazardous for the doctors, nurses and rescue crews. When all was said and done, the death toll estimate stood at two-hundred thousand people. Some details in regard to the earthquake have been changed to help the flow of this story. The overall account of this tragedy, however, remains intact. This is a fictional tale based on historical events, yet by no means represents all that happened in Messina. This book is dedicated to the men and women who sacrificed themselves willingly to help during this great tragedy, and to those who were lost that fateful night.

CHAPTER ONE
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)
Rome, Italy December 27, 1908 The last rays of the setting sun danced on the dome of St. Peters Basilica in the heart of Vatican City. Giovanni Castello squinted, then turned his eyes from the brilliance. This time of day always seemed bitter sweet. Like a human life, once beautiful, giving way to old age and death, so daylight succumbed to night. Only a sunset promised a sunrise on the other side. Did the depth of human suffering promise a sunrise too? Who could be sure? Through shadows of deep purple, Giovanni made his way across la Piazza San Pietro. Cold breath rose from darkened stone and mirrored Giovanni’s lonely existence. Except for the gaze of the on-looking saints who watched from their rest atop the colonnade at St. Peter’s, Giovanni walked in solitude.

Something about this place always bothered him, particularly when he was alone. It felt so eerie; as though the marble statues above would come to life at any moment. The dark-haired Sicilian avoided looking at them as he had avoided their God for many years. He passed the obelisk in the center of the oval-shaped piazza; a gust of wind blew from behind and debris rose into the air. Giovanni struggled briefly with his hat, and then tightened his coat. He scanned the darkness behind him, certain someone followed. Or perhaps this time he’d see the unseen presence he’d avoided for so long. A cold shiver rose from inside and he turned his back to the familiar specter that called to his heart. Without another look, Giovanni hurried on his way.
The Eternal City. Lucy had always wanted to see it. She clung to the window of the motor coach. No way could she take it all in. Music filled the air, the aroma of superb Italian creations made her stomach absolutely growl. Cathedrals, built who knows when, reached for the stars and the statues; so beautiful, so life-like, so… nude. Why did they have so many nude statues? Lucy averted her eyes. Some things just didn’t seem right. She glanced at her father. Henry James seemed unfazed by the things they passed. He’d once told her that they’d be living in the most sophisticated city in the world and here they were, right in the middle of it. The air, slightly warmer than usual on this December night, made the evening’s festivities even more enjoyable. Lucy hated to wear an evening gown at all and a heavy wrap would have just been a bother. But the light pink satin dress she wore made her father happy. And this evening, for his sake, she would put her opinions aside and behave like a lady. Thank goodness tonight felt like spring and Olivia Drake, in whose home they stayed, insisted that a light gossamer covering would be all she needed to accentuate the pearls sewn into the bodice. The car pulled to the curb and the door opened. A holiday gala at the American Embassy, well, no avoiding it now. Hansom cabs, expensive carriages and motorcars crowded the street, pausing long enough to allow occupants to escape. Lucy and her father made their way up the steps toward the sound of the orchestra. Inside, the grand ballroom presented a visual feast of gold and greenery. What a Christmas tree! It rose magnificently to the ceiling, lit with brilliant white lights. A hand blown glass ornament hung from every branch. A fireplace roared next to the tree, an enormous hand-carved eagle flew over the mantle. To the right, Old Glory stood proudly. Couples waltzed in the middle of the room. “Daddy, let’s join them.” Lucy pulled at her father’s arm. “I’m so full of energy I could dance a jig.” “Please don’t.” Henry James’s eyebrows went up, then a smile softened his face. “Your mother loved to dance too. You look so much like her, with your beautiful auburn hair swept up like that.” He held out his hand.
The music stopped with a flourish. Everyone bowed and curtsied, applauding the orchestra with enthusiasm. “You’re every bit as beautiful as your mother. I wish she were here to see how well you dance.” Henry James kissed his daughter’s hand. “Shall we get some punch, my dear?” “Yes, please,” Lucy smiled at her father’s southern drawl. Arm-in– arm, they made their way to the punch bowl full of shimmering liquid the color of cherries. She lifted two cups full of juice and handed one to her father.

“Not just yet, my love. I think I see a collogue heading toward the smoking lounge. If you’d wait I promise to be back by the next dance.” “I’ll be right here.” Lucy watched her father’s bald crown disappear in the crowd. What a dear man. Her heart grew warm. She set a punch cup back on the table and sipped from the one in her hand. Sweet, cool and fizzy; just what she needed. “Have you met the ambassador from Spain, Delores?” A lady with hair that must have been the result of a bleach bottle stood with a friend at the other end of the table. She slid her mouth around a long, ivory cigarette holder and exhaled lazily. The smoke seeped through her lips to create luxurious billows around her shoulders. It would be rude to laugh. Lucy bit her lip and tried to find a distraction but the other lady was funnier that the first. With a face a shade too white and extra rouge on her puffy cheeks, Deloris raised a penciled eyebrow and sipped champagne. “Yes, Gladys, I met his wife as well. She is rather fat, don’t you think?” Lucy turned away. If she stuck her fingers in her ears they’d know for sure she’d heard them. She peeked from the corner of her eye. “Oh yes, but we mustn’t judge. You and I are also wider than we once were.”Gladys must like to roll her r’s. “You, maybe. At least I still have a waistline.” Deloris snorted, scanned the room and shoved an hors d’oeuvre in her mouth. “Try one of these.” Gladys smiled, at her friend’s bulging figure? She handed Deloris a small cake. “That is the author, Maude Howe.” Deloris pointed her fan discretely. “Isn’t her mother the one who wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic?” Really? Lucy looked too. A woman who traveled the world and wrote books would be worth knowing. Maude Howe, wow. Lucy inched closer. These two seemed to know everyone.
“I believe you’re right.” Gladys touched the end of her cigarette to a crystal bowl on the table. The ashes fell to the bottom, glowed for a second and then turned black. “The man next to her is her fiancé. I don’t remember his name but I do know that he’s working on a painting that will be a gift to the American government. We must make sure to meet them both before the night’s over. “Who’s the Italian over there; the one that just walked in the door?” Gladys set her glasses back on her nose and squinted. “My, he’s handsome.” “Yes he is, but look at his face. He’s not at all pleased to be here. In any event, nothing could ever compel me to get involved with an Italian. They’re so temperamental, so hard to read, I can never tell what they’re thinking. I might be wrong, but now that I look again, I think his uncle is the illustrious Vincenzo Castello. A much better looking man in my opinion.” Deloris looked about the room. Lucy watched the elegant Italian. He moved comfortably in his tuxedo as though he wore one often. He must be used to the finer things in life. Thank goodness she wouldn’t have to talk to him tonight. “Who is that woman dancing so beautifully with the older gentleman?” Gladys’s exclamation grabbed Lucy’s attention. She followed the gaze of the blond with her own. “Doctor Henry James and his daughter, Lucille, from Boston.” Deloris dabbed her mouth. “They’re guests of Colonel Matthew Drake. Dr. James will be working for the next year at the University of Rome doing some kind of research.” Lucy’s eyes grew big and a smile crept across her face. Deloris had no idea who she watched on the dance floor nor had she a clue who stood three feet away. 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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“And his daughter, she’s oddly attractive, although way too tall.” Gladys gave a tiny yawn behind a hand gloved in satin. “Has she no husband? She seems a little old to be unmarried.” “She is by far the more interesting of the two.” Deloris leaned in. “I have heard, from a very reliable source, that the young woman is not only unmarried, but is in fact a doctor. She is an accomplished surgeon just like her father. I learned that piece of news from Mrs. Drake herself.” “Really? I must meet them this very evening,” Gladys said. “A woman doctor! Who would have ever thought, in my lifetime, I would meet a woman doctor? No wonder she’s a spinster.” “Excuse me,” Lucy leaned closer. How could she resist the fun? “Did you say that woman is a doctor?” Gladys inched her jeweled lorgnette down her nose to peer over the rim. She balanced the long handle of the spectacles and a china plate laden with sweets in one hand, while the other held the accessory that some poor pachyderm gave his life for. She took another drag from the ivory-encased cigarette and turned. “Young woman, I wasn’t speaking to you. What is it you want?” “Did you say Lucille James is a doctor? And she’s not married?” Lucy looked across the dance floor at the poor victim of the conversation. That girl is beautiful. You two should be ashamed of yourselves. “What man would have a woman who spends her day in a surgery? Just think of all the blood and other unpleasant things she must see. How unattractive.” Gladys swayed to the beat of the music. “I rather like the idea.” Lucy gave a pleasant smile. Gladys dropped her lorgnette from her nose. “You give your opinion freely for a newcomer to Rome. Who are you?” Deloris stopped chewing. “My name is Lucille James. I’m a surgeon.” Applause at the dances end filled the silence.
“She’s so skinny!” Deloris looked down her nose. “Come along Deloris. Eavesdropping is rude. No wonder she’s a spinster.” Gladys pulled her friend with her. “I say it’s because she needs to eat more.” Deloris took one more look over her shoulder. The icy silence, Lucy had heard before. The crack about her weight, well, it stung but that wasn’t anything new either. “Lucille, what did you say to those women to make them leave?” Henry James had finally returned. He smelled of tobacco. “Nothing, really.” She nudged him and spied their host and hostess. Whew, a distraction. “The Drakes are finally here. Don’t they look nice?” The Drakes strolled across the floor, accompanied by the swish of midnight blue taffeta. Even with their matching figures, short and round, Mrs. Drake had managed to outfit her husband in a tuxedo to compliment her dress. They smiled sheepishly when they spotted their guests. “Henry, Lucille, I hope you didn’t mind being sent ahead of us. Olivia likes to make an entrance of sorts.” The Colonel fingered the lapel his wife had ordered to match her dress. He rolled his eyes and smiled down at Olivia. Mrs. Drake swatted her husband with her black lace fan. “If you had put your book down in time to dress, we could have arrived with our guests.” The black feather in Olivia’s hair gave a floating nod. “Please forgive our rudeness.” Lucy fought a laugh. “Of course you’re forgiven.” “Are you finding work agreeable, Doctor James?” The English accent came from outside their circle. “Dr. Randolph Montgomery, it’s good to see you.” Dr. James’s extended hand welcomed the outsider. “Please allow me to present Colonel and Mrs. Matthew Drake. My daughter, Lucille, you’ve met.
Too pale, too thin and a handshake like a wet fish. Ew. Lucy gave a nod and latched onto her father’s arm. “I’ll be working with Dr. Montgomery at the University.” Henry James patted the Colonel on the arm. “Good to meet you.” Colonel Drake stuck his hand out. His vigorous handshakes were the stuff of legend back home. He squished those slimy fingers like a sponge. Lucy watched delighted. Dr. Montgomery rubbed his fingers. “Colonel Drake, Mrs. Drake, if you wouldn’t mind.” He gave a slight bow. “I’d love to steal your company for a few moments. More of our colleagues have arrived and I would like Doctor James and his daughter to meet them.” “Go right ahead.” Colonel Drake offered his arm to Olivia. “I’m going to try to convince my wife to join me for the next dance.” “I was waiting for you to ask.” Olivia curtsied. She must have been something when she was young. “Henry. Lucille.” The Colonel bowed to his wife and they took off in a whirl. Olivia’s feather bobbed at every step. “Dr. Montgomery, why don’t you go ahead. Lucille and I will join you momentarily.” Henry James renewed his grip on Lucy’s arm. The Englishman disappeared in the crowd. Uh, oh. Now what? “Please promise me that you will show no garish behavior while we’re here.” Henry James gave Lucy a stern frown. “But I’ve already promised to behave myself while we’re in Rome.” “I want to hear you say you’ll behave yourself tonight.” “I know it bothers you when I speak my mind.” Lucy patted her father’s hand. “Don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you.” “I wish I could believe that.” Henry James cracked a smile and held out his arm. “Come on, let’s go meet the other doctors.” 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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The group of waiting doctors, gaped like men in a side show. Did they not think she’d notice? Dr. Montgomery straightened his jacket and smiled a greeting. “Allow me to present Dr. Osvaldo De Stanza from Milan and Doctor Sergio Mortellaro from right here in Rome. Dr. Mortellaro is the head physician at the University Hospital. He’ll be our host.” He turned to the other physicians. “Gentlemen, I would like you to meet Dr. Henry James and his daughter, Lucille. As I’ve told you, Miss James is an accomplished surgeon in her own right.” Dr Mortellaro examined Lucy through his monocle. What am I, a lab rat? No, he looked like a lab rat. “You’re very unusual, Miss James. What university did you attend?” “I graduated from The Medical University of Boston.” Act like a lady. Act like a lady. Lucy bit her tongue. “I had the opportunity to observe her work when I visited Boston last summer,” Dr. Montgomery looked over his brandy just before taking a sip. “This young lady has convinced me that women, on occasion, can make marvelous physicians.” Lucy bit harder. “You must have encountered quite a bit of prejudice.” Dr. De Stanza’s face kind of looked like a weasel. He stepped closer to her with a yellow smile. The suffocating smell of hair tonic and too much cologne made her want to gag. There’s such a thing as personal space. Lucy backed up a step. “Yes, I’ve encountered a lot of prejudice, but I’ve yet to meet a fellow physician who doesn’t appreciate hard work and study.” “My daughter graduated in the top of her class. I’m very proud of her.” Henry pulled Lucy under his arm. Thanks Dad. 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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Dr. De Stanza turned to Henry. “I thought you were from Boston. Your accent says otherwise.” Lucy smiled to herself. If only she had a penny for all the times he’d given this answer. “I live in Boston. Lucille was born there. But I’m from the great state of South Carolina.” He stood up a little straighter. “A Southerner.” Dr. De Stanza tilted his head toward Dr. Mortellaro. “We must remember to be on our best behavior, especially around…” Dr. Montgomery’s scowled stopped him cold. “Dr. James, I would like to extend an invitation, for your daughter to work alongside our group at the university. I know we’d all like a chance to watch her.” Weasel, lab-rat, and… fish or…cadaver. Hey, dead guy, I can speak for myself, you know. Could her patience last much longer? “Ask her.” Henry James gave Lucy’s arm a subtle squeeze. She bit her tongue again. Henry James released his daughter. “Lucille is quite capable of making her own decisions.” Dr. Montgomery raised an eyebrow. “Well, what would you say?” About working with a dead guy and a couple of rodents? “I’d be honored.” Especially if they actually allowed her to do her job. “I’m excited.” Dr Montgomery rocked onto his toes. He looked about the room. “There was someone else I wanted you to meet. He said he had a meeting to attend at the Vatican this evening. I hope he’s here.” “At the Vatican?” Dr. De Stanza snickered. “What on earth for?” “I’m not sure.” Dr Montgomery searched the crowd again. “He said something about the chief magistrate of Rome and what else I don’t know.” “Oh. He met with his uncle.” Dr. De Stanza blew through his nose. Dr. Montgomery rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Where is that rascal—ah here he comes.” 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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Lucy turned. Just perfect. The unhappy Italian, from the socialites’ conversation, wove through the crowd to meet them. He looked to be in his early thirties with light olive skin and soft black hair. His serious dark gray eyes and well-built frame commanded an air of casual elegance. No doubt he had a firm place in Rome’s high society, but something about him said he might also possess a depth of character. What exactly did he hide beneath the surface? “This is Dr. Giovanni Castello.” Dr. Montgomery gestured his hand toward the man. “Dr. Castello, I would like you to meet Doctors Henry and Lucille James.” Dr. Castello executed the most graceful bow she had ever seen. Lucy curtsied in return and, when she rose, found a curious expression on his face. Before she could decipher it, though, he turned and extended a hand to her father. “Dr. Castello is one of the finest young surgeons that the University of Rome has produced in recent years.” Dr. Montgomery rubbed his hands together. “I was lucky enough to steal him away from Italy. He worked with me in London for a while. He recently opened a practice in Messina, Sicily. Remind me, how long have you been there?” “I’ve been there for almost two years now.” He had a beautiful voice and a rolling Italian accent. “I was hoping to convince Dr. Castello to join our group. He really is quite the expert on infectious diseases, and actually had a chance to work with Sir Joseph Lister for a short period. However, Dr. Castello would rather spend his time working in his small office and surgery among people who can’t even pay him. Once he’s made up his mind…” Dr. Montgomery shrugged his shoulders. “Rome has plenty of doctors.” Dr. Castello tilted his head toward Lucy. “The need is much greater in the smaller cities.” “But Messina is not exactly a small town,” said Dr. Mortellaro. 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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“You’re right. The population is quite large, but it’s made up mostly of peasants and laborers who need to be educated on every level. There simply are not enough physicians to keep up with the population.” “So you’ve chosen to work among the peasants?” A humanitarian? Lucy leaned in a bit. “Yes. I don’t believe that anyone should be denied medical treatment. In addition to the lack of good physicians, the city lags behind in modern conveniences. We might be living in the twentieth century here in Rome, but many Sicilians live as though it’s still the fifteen-hundreds. They have no understanding of proper sanitation or of disease prevention. Many people have yet to see their first light bulb.” “It must be difficult.” She might just have to admire him. “Yes it is. We must sometimes do emergency surgeries by candle light. You gentlemen know how difficult that can be.” Lucy raised an eyebrow, but remained pleasant. Giovanni bowed toward Lucy with a slight smile. “Living in the medical community I’m surrounded by men. It is easy to forget one’s manners, Miss James. Forgive me, I did mean to include you in that statement.” Ah, a lab-rat, a weasel, a cadaver and…a patronizing peacock. Lucy sensed her father’s gaze so she pressed her lips together. A swell of music drowned out the conversation. Dr. De Stanza looked at Lucy as if to ask a question. Yikes. No way did she want to dance with that creepy guy. Dr Montgomery’s eyes grew round. Dr Castello threw a sideways glance at Dr. De Stanza and quickly stepped in front of him. “May I have this dance Miss James?” He offered Lucy his well manicured hand and the scent of soft cologne followed. The darkness of his eyes looked into her soul. 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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Her father frowned. She shouldn’t dance with him? Why not? How could she in good manners refuse? “You really don’t have to dance with me, Dr. Castello.” Lucy walked with her escort to the dance floor. Perhaps he, too, wanted a way out. “Would you have rather danced with De Stanza?” Giovanni stopped and faced her. “No.” Lucy shook her head. She shivered and knew that her partner felt it. “It’s not a practice of mine to dance with a man I hardly know.” “Don’t consider this a dance then, consider this a rescue. I don’t like the way he looks at you.” “You noticed?” A protective peacock, hmm. “How could I not notice? I know the man well. You shouldn’t dance with him.” “I would have told him no.” “You could have told me no.” Giovanni shrugged. “But you’re in a foreign country among new colleagues.” “You’re right.” Lucy allowed him to lead her to the center of the room. “I wanted to make a good impression. Thank you for the rescue, Dr. Castello.” “Please, call me Giovanni. I’m at your service.” He took her in his arms with a warm smile; and the waltz began. Okay, so you’re not a peacock. I might just have to like you. “If I’m to call you by your first name, then I insist that you return the favor. My name is Lucille, my friends call me Lucy.” A wisp of genuine kindness lit her partner’s face. Maybe you’re as nice as I first believed. You’re a good dancer too. She circled the floor with her partner, enjoying the music. “Tell me Lucille; Lucy,” Giovanni’s light hands guided her easily, “what convinced you to become a doctor? I would imagine that someone 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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in your…” Dr. Castello looked over her shoulder and then back at her. “…position would be much happier married and raising a family.” “What position would that be?” Lucy had heard this question more than once. “A woman, attractive, eligible, obviously from a good family, why bother? Although I must admit, I can see the reason in becoming a nurse. That would, in itself, be valuable knowledge to bring into a family. But why become a doctor, much less a surgeon?” “I love this profession. Medicine runs in my family and I seem to be good at it. My father is a doctor and my mother was a brilliant nurse. Father always said that, given the opportunity, Mother would have been just as accomplished a surgeon as he. My older brother graduated with a medical degree three years ago. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to do the same?” “Why should any woman put herself on display?” Dr. Castello’s hand on her waist moved slightly. “A degree such as yours will only prove to be useless education or worse. If you marry, I don’t know any man who would want his wife doing surgeries. It’s too ugly a job for someone like you. As for the medical community, it took years for them to finally admit that Florence Nightingale was right in her discovery of hospital sanitization. I’m not sure how readily they will receive such a wonder as you. If they accept you at all, they’ll see you as a novelty and exhibit you like a glorified circus act. I would wager that the physicians here tonight have already invited you to join them just so that they can watch.” “Yes, as a matter of fact they have.” Rats, you’re right. “Don’t think for a moment that it is because they see you as an equal. You’ll be nothing more than a trained monkey.” Jehoshaphat, you too? The hairs on the back of her neck started to rise. She faked a smile. “I sincerely believe that God has given me a gift and I must use it. Somehow, He’ll find an avenue for what He’s given 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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me. As for marriage, I have no intentions of marrying unless I can find someone with whom I can work as a partner. You don’t think women make suitable physicians, do you?” “Since you’ve asked plainly, I’ll not pad my answer. No.” Dr. Castello shook his head. He smiled as though he instructed a child. “I certainly believe that women are intelligent enough; I simply have yet to meet a woman who is emotionally stable enough. Unlike you, I don’t believe in God so I don’t believe that he gives gifts. Unfortunately that puts us at opposite sides of the medical table.” “But you’ve worked with Dr. Lister. Word has it that he has a strong faith in The Almighty.” “He does indeed, and a more humble individual you will never meet. But he’s old and set in his ways. He wouldn’t even consider the possibility of Darwin’s theory. You do know what Darwin’s theory is?” Could she make him trip? “Something about someone like you being related to an ape? Tonight I could almost believe it. I suppose you embrace Darwin’s theory of evolution?” His mouth twitched. “I do.” “I think it takes just as much faith to believe in your religion as it does mine.” Dr. Castello slowed their step. “Are you always so impertinent? Lucy glared at him. “Impertinent? I’m too delicate to be impertinent. I’m emotionally unstable, or…or… a trained monkey! I don’t understand a thing I’m saying.” She stopped dancing and stepped back. Who cared if the whole room watched!“Porco!” The word came out of her mouth before she could think. The music stopped and so did the dancing crowd. The weight of one hundred-fifty staring people brought heat to her cheeks. She saw her partner’s mouth tighten, could he possibly be fighting a smile? Lucy’s blood boiled. 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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“Where did you learn language like that? You’re father should wash your mouth out with soap.” Dr. Castello was definitely trying not to laugh. Lucy almost swallowed her tongue. Some things just don’t mean the same thing here. Pig is a bad word? Then she saw the spark of humor in his eye and her anger returned. “You speak English, you know exactly what I meant and you deserve it!” “Oh, yes. I should have remembered. I’m sorry to have corrected you for calling me a pig.” He raised one eyebrow and smiled like a cat. “You’re sorry?” she seethed. “No, I’m sorry; sorry that I danced with you and sorry I thought-” The floor under her feet vibrated. What on earth? “Did you feel that?” “Feel what?” Dr. Castello cocked his head, his gaze swept her face. “Miss James, have you had too much…” Tinkling from above must have caused him to look overhead, at the crystal chandelier. It moved back and forth and then swayed. The crowded room began to murmur. Lights flickered and a vase filled with lilies crashed to the tile. Someone screamed. “Quickly, to the alcove!” With a vice like grip he grabbed her wrist. Lucy fought against him and the vibration grew. “Daddy. I need to find him.” “He’ll be fine.” The strong Sicilian dragged her through the crowd of confusion. “What’s happening?” Lucy finally gave in. A small foyer, leading to a marbled patio, waited. “Earthquake! Get down.” He pushed her beneath him, wrapped in his protective arms; the scent of warm cologne clung to fine silk. The room went dark. 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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CHAPTER TWO
Thank goodness it was only a tremor. But if a tremor could be felt as far north as Rome, how devastating must the earthquake have been? The idea did not bode well. Giovanni settled at the bow of the HMS Fortitude. His hand went to the Marconi gram in his breast pocket. Earthquake. Messina. Help.
Three words, most likely sent by Alfredo the station operator. How would the man have known the reach him through Zio Vincenzo? Maybe Padre Dominic managed to send this note to his uncle. Whoever sent this must not have had much time. Faces of people he knew flashed through his mind and the knot in his stomach tightened. He would give his life for any one of them and right now he was stuck on this slow moving steamer. In the fading distance, people milled about the stone harbor at Palermo, some weeping, others poring over the local news. Normally he would have gotten off here. His parents would understand; Castellos always helped. Hopefully, Mamma would get the note before long. Palermo would wait his return. To the right Mt. Pellegrino, adorned with the shrine to the patron saint of the city, stood as a shining farewell
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to all who left this place. Giovanni gripped the railing, breathed in the sweet salty air to relax and prepare his mind for what lay ahead. “Have you any news?” Giovanni stopped the first officer when he passed. “Just what’s come over the wireless. Nothing from the city itself.” The man fidgeted with the pages on his clipboard and dropped his pencil. “Ships from Russia are there right now. The word they keep sending is: devastation. That’s all we’ve got.” Giovanni picked up the pencil at his foot and handed it to the man. He grimaced. “A fault line lies underwater, through the Straights of Messina.” The first officer lowered his gaze and nodded. “So I’ve heard.” “If it produced a tidal wave…” Giovanni’s jaw tightened. A comforting hand rested on Giovanni’s shoulder. “Try not to think about it yet. You’re a doctor, right?” “Yes.” “Maybe you should get some rest.”
“Messina. One hour.” The call came from outside Giovanni’s cabin door. He rolled off his cot and rubbed his eyes. Who knew what lay ahead? He stepped into his trousers and pulled suspenders over his shoulders. What a week. A day and half ago he was dancing with that feisty thing from America. Too bad he had to make a quick exit. It would have been worth hanging around that awful research group just to get to know her. Lucy from America. Maybe this quake really wasn’t as bad as everyone thought. Sicily had been through so many. Hopefully it wouldn’t take much time to clean up and Giovanni could find a reason to return Roma.
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Anxiety gripped his stomach. His hunches were usually right. What he hoped for was a minor tragedy. Reality, well, maybe he should just wait and see. Fingers slid through the handle of his leather bag. He tucked a canteen of water over one shoulder, his knapsack over the other and pushed the cabin door open. Cold moist air stung his face. What a dark gray sky. The British steamer made its way through the fine steady rain. They only had to round Cape Peloro and then the sickle shaped harbor came into view. How could he have prepared himself for this? At first glance, it appeared as though a giant foot had stepped on the middle of the city. Giovanni leaned against the railing and narrowed his eyes. The urge to wretch almost overcame him. Giovanni grabbed his belly and took several deep breaths to force his stomach to still. The harbor swam with debris. A mountain of wrecked fishing ships piled on top of what should have been a home; a lace curtain dangled, limp and torn. The Palazzata, a magnificent structure that stretched for almost two miles along the harbor, bid them welcome. Only the outer wall with its sculptured façade of elegant goddesses remained. Along the water and high into the air crept a dark cloud of smoke. After the earthquake and the tidal wave, the city began to burn.
Giovanni sat in one of three large skiffs, suspended above the water by chains. He hugged his knapsack and medical bag to his chest and moved up against the side of the boat to allow what little room was left for the doctors, soldiers and supplies. With a lurch and a squeal of metal on metal, the gears began to turn and the boat descended. Hundreds of bodies floated in the water, most of them naked, all of them with expressions of horror frozen on their faces. They bumped
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up against the boat that painfully pushed toward shore. Giovanni held back a sob, wiped the rain from his face and fought, with every ounce of strength, to retain control. Through his tears, the blurry image of another boat appeared. He rubbed his eyes to get a better look. With so many people aboard how did it float at all? They moaned, reached their hands toward him, begging for water, half-crazed. Not able to help, he turned his face from them and wept. The launches pulled up to the heavy stone quay. The land looked as though the sea itself froze in one place. Some places were sunk six feet below the waterline while others pushed high into the air. Giovanni climbed out of the boat and struggled to hold his composure. To his left, a woman’s body washed back and forth in the tide. It took all his strength not to stand and gape like a helpless fool. It took even more strength to move on, as he knew he should. He scanned the city, to recognize buildings and streets. The cathedral of Messina, with its bell tower, lay in ruins. Corpses lay here and there, tossed about like rag dolls. Scores of homeless wretches wandered about aimlessly. Some cried, some looked for loved ones, some did nothing at all. A few brave souls actually tried to identify bodies pulled from the water. Never in the years he studied in the schools of Rome, nor in the days he served in the slums of London had he seen such a horror. Giovanni dove into the recesses of his memory to the time he learned to shield his heart against pain and sorrow. He was a child then, but now, the ability served him well. If he were to be able to help these people at all he must detach his emotions. He slammed shut the door to his heart and steeled his eyes. A man stood on a pile of rock, barking orders to those around him. Maybe he was in charge. Giovanni made his way to him. “I’m a doctor. Where are you taking victims?” 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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“Why? Are you hurt?” The man asked. “No. I said, I’m a doctor.” Giovanni showed the man his bag. “Where’s the hospital?” The man scratched his head. “There is no hospital. Can’t you see that?” “I know there’s no actual hospital. Where are you taking victims?” “All over the city. There are stations everywhere. Look for the tarpaulins.” “Is there one near the Chapel of St. Francis?” “I believe so. It’s a long walk from here, I hope you feel better soon.” “Thank you.” Giovanni shook his head.
Giovanni stepped over a beheaded statue and moved a broken highback chair. The road seemed to clear where the train tracks lay. Then, the remains of the chapel of St. Francis lay before him. How long did it take to get here? A dim sun glowed silver behind heavy clouds. It must be late afternoon. At least he’d made it this far. In the distance, a large tarp had been strung between poles and lashed with rope. It must be the hospital. The rain made it sag sadly in the center and water ran in a steady drip as it overflowed from its middle onto the street. What a nightmare. He shuffled to the corner of the tent. Victims lay shoulder to shoulder on the ground. The doctors, covered in mud and blood, nodded to Giovanni and continued their labor. He looked down at the person lying at his feet. The man smiled weakly and Giovanni noticed his crushed arm. He dropped his knapsack on the wet ground and stooped to help. The poor man winced when Giovanni touched him. He must have been there for quite some time.
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“Per favore, help my wife first.” The man turned his head toward the woman next to him and reached with his good arm to stroke her cheek. “Mi dispiace, signore.” Giovanni’s voice broke when he saw her blue lips. “Sua moglie è morta.” 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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CHAPTER THREE
Giovanni rubbed his weary eyes with the back of his blood stained hands. His face felt gritty, his clothes stale. If only he could wash he would feel so much better. He looked across the tent. Two patients down, a foreign doctor with a bald head could not stop coughing. He’s not going to be able to stay long. The man looked back at Giovanni, deep circles under his bloodshot eyes. “This is no hospital, it’s a slaughter house and we’re the butchers.” “Be careful what you say, some of these people speak English.” Giovanni glanced down at the woman he knelt beside. Her face tense, she gripped her rosary, her mouth moved in silent prayer. If her broken hip healed at all she would be lame for life. “I agree, this is the by far the worst thing I’ve ever seen.” “I wasn’t sure you spoke English. I’m Emmett Wissig.” “Giovanni Castello.” Giovanni stepped over his last patient to get to the next. Dr. Wissig gave a nod and went back to work. Giovanni took a deep breath and started to cough as well. The fumes from the smoldering city stung his nose and made his eyes water. The air was better when he stooped to the ground, but he had stooped for so long that his leg muscles screamed for relief. Maybe if he knelt this time.
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He moved to his knees, but that hurt too so he sat on the pavement, no longer concerned about what he sat in or on. Giovanni examined the deep gash in the man’s side. “Am I going to die?” His patient grabbed Giovanni’s arm with a vice-like grip. “I don’t think so.” Giovanni peeled the man’s fingers away and sutured his wound. “I’ll do everything I can to save you.” He moved on the next person. How many had there been? Was this someone he’d see before or just a look-alike? All these injuries were overcoming his ability to remember faces; which patient belonged to him and which to the other doctors. But his colleagues struggled to remember as well so he took one more look at the sea of injured people, drew a deep breath and kept going. A fractured shoulder; Giovanni could do nothing to ease the pain. A dislocated hip; at least this was fixable. With the screaming man’s friends holding him down Giovanni pushed the leg back into place. A severed artery; he could stop the bleeding but with all the rain and no place to dry, would it be better to let this man fall into sleep as he bled to death or to save his life only for him to die in agony with gangrene? It is not my decision to make. And so Giovanni saved him. Compound fracture of the left radius. Didn’t I just remove this man’s arm? He shook his head and re-focused. ”I’m afraid we’re going to have to move you.” He couldn’t look at the fear in the man’s eyes. Giovanni noticed a boy huddled with his mother in the rain. She had a toddler in her arms and another young boy to her left. “Signora?” “I need some help with this poor man.” “What can I do? I have children to hold.” She turned to her oldest child. “This is not the first tragedy we’ve seen. Pietro has been the man of the house for a year and a half now. He’ll help you. Then maybe you can help us.” 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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Giovanni nodded. “Whatever I can do for you, I will. How old are you?” He focused his attention to the boy in rags, who shuffled to his side. “Ten.” Pietro stared at the bone protruding from the patient’s arm. “Then you’re a man.” Giovanni clasped the boy on the arm. He stood his patient and helped him to the piece of wood resting on a pair of saw horses; the closest thing to an operating table they had. Giovanni managed an encouraging nod first to his patient and then to Pietro. “He needs something to bite down on.” “He can have my hat.” Pietro pulled the cap from his head and gave it to the man. “Grazie.” The patient shoved the cap in his mouth. Giovanni touched his head. “I’m afraid I have nothing to give you for the pain. I’m sorry.” The man nodded, closed his eyes and turned his head. His face, already pale, turned even whiter and tears streamed down his face. “Pietro, I want you to stand right here and you must be brave.” Giovanni moved the little boy to the patient’s shoulder. “I need you to hold his arm like this with all your strength. Lean on him, see?” Giovanni leaned on the patient. “You try.” “Like this?’ With eyes like saucers, Pietro did as he was told. “That’s it. Now turn your head and close your eyes.” Giovanni’s heart sank. This boy should be out fishing, not helping with a surgery.
“Pietro, you were a big help.” Giovanni knelt by his patient, once more on the ground. He wrapped the severed arm with his last clean bandage and then handed Pietro his canteen of water. “Take this to your
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mother. It’s all I have at the moment, but I’ll boil more. Will you be here to help if I need it?” “Si.” Pietro grabbed the flask and licked his lips. “Aren’t you thirsty? Take a drink.” “No, my mother drinks first, then my sister. I’m a man, I can wait.” Pietro disappeared from sight. Giovanni felt someone kneel at his side. “You’re Sicilian aren’t you? I heard you talking to that boy.” The man spoke with a British accent. “Yes.” Giovanni rested a reassuring hand on his patient. “Dr. Wissig said that your practice was here in Messina.” “Yes,” Giovanni said again. “You’re the first local doctor I’ve met.” Giovanni let out a deep breath. “That is because all the others have died. I was fortunate enough to have been out of town when this happened.” “I’m Doctor Davidson. It seems the authorities have put me in charge of this bloody mess. I need a second in command. It would help to have someone who knows the local dialects.” “I can do that,” Giovanni said. “You’ve been speaking to the authorities? What have they said about supplies? Blankets, clothing? These people are suffering from hunger and exposure as much as anything else. The mainland of Italy is just a stone’s throw from the harbor. Has anyone sent anything yet?” “I keep hearing that help is on the way, but I haven’t seen it. You’re right, these people are cold and hungry.” Dr. Davidson wrapped his damp jacket more tightly around his shoulders. “How long has it been since you’ve had any food?” 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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Giovanni tried to ignore the claw in his stomach. The doctor in front of him looked as hungry as he felt. “Almost forty-eight hours. Who needs food?” He smiled for the first time in days. “And you?” “About the same.” Dr. Davidson smiled back. “Thank you for keeping things positive.” “Whatever you need.” Giovanni turned back to his patient. “Let me finish this man, and then I have an idea.” “What I need are morphine and clean bandages.” Dr. Davidson gave a dry laugh and began to help Giovanni. A gust of wind blew rain into the tent. The doctors covered the patient with their bodies. “Santa Maria!” Giovanni checked the arm he had just bandaged patted it dry with a cloth. “Does it always rain like this? I thought Sicily was a sunny place.” “Rain is normal here in the winter, so is the cold.” Giovanni looked across the tent to the rain that dripped outside. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” “Pioggia dal terremoto.” Giovanni’s patient whispered. “You’re awake. Si, amico.” He rubbed the patient’s right hand and translated. “Earthquake rain. The locals are all calling it earthquake rain. Try to sleep.” Giovanni stood stiffly, grateful to straighten his legs. He gave Dr. Davidson a hand up. Dr. Davidson straightened his back and stretched his neck. “So, what’s your idea?” “My house is not far from here. I know I have enough food in dry storage to feed us for today, at least.” Giovanni looked at all of the people at his feet. “I have some blankets, but not nearly enough.” He shrugged. “Some is better that none.” “We have food for today.” Dr. Davidson gave an encouraging nod. “Did no one tell you?” 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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“We do? Where?” Giovanni scanned the tent, and then as if his nose came to life, he smelled garlic and onions. “Just outside, on the other side of the wall.” He pointed to the main support of the tarp.” “Mamma mia, why didn’t you say so?” “I don’t know. I suppose I thought you knew.” Giovanni stepped over a patient and headed into the misty rain, toward the tantalizing aroma. Never had food smelled so inviting. He rounded the brick wall and a ray of hope filled his heart. Before him, under a smaller tarp, behind an enormous kettle, stood a balding priest in a tattered brown robe. “How did I know if there was food, you’d be involved?” Giovanni’s voice cracked, but so what? “Isn’t that the laundry kettle from my house?” “Giovanni!” Father Dominic dropped his spoon and grabbed Giovanni in a bear hug. “I knew you wouldn’t mind if I borrowed a few things.” He raised his eyes to heaven. “Grazie a Dio.” “I got your message.” Giovanni pulled the crumpled paper from his breast pocket. “I didn’t send this. It must have come from Alfredo.” Father Dominic examined the Marconi-gram. “I hope he’s ok. I haven’t seen him.” Giovanni smeared his tears with his hand. He had to get a grip on his emotions. “What’s this?” He peered into the bubbling soup. “I believe it’s everything in your pantry.” Father Dominic grinned. “Is it edible? Who said you could cook?” “He didn’t cook this. The nun did.” Dr. Davidson stabbed his thumb toward a surly looking nun. She pushed the priest out of the way. “Dio mio!” Giovanni exclaimed before he could stop himself. “You survived, too?” He grabbed the nun, who struggled, and kissed the top of her head. Then he ducked behind Dr. Davidson, but not before Sister Francesca knocked him on the head with her spoon. She turned around 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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mumbling, angry, and shuffled back to her pot. She wiped the spoon on her dirty apron and continued to stir. “What was that about?” Dr. Davidson laughed. Giovanni smirked and rubbed his head. “He took The Lord’s name in vain.” Father Dominic spoke to Dr. Davidson, but leveled his eyes at Giovanni. “He’s lucky I wasn’t holding the spoon.”
“So these are your friends?” Dr. Davidson leaned against a brick wall, eating quickly. “Yes. They’re like family.” Giovanni, next to him, pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe his mouth and then saw the filth covering the hanky. He sighed, shoved it back where he found it and used his sleeve. “I’m glad for you.” Dr. Davidson pulled his hanky from his pocket as well, looked at the stains, rolled his eyes and stuffed it back in its place. “I’ve known the Padre for a very long time. I don’t know what I would do without him,” Giovanni said. Father Dominic came around the corner and sat with them, on a pile of mortar. “And yet you don’t believe in God?” Dr. Davidson asked. Giovanni raised an eyebrow. “Is it that obvious?” “You never pray for your patients. It’s a common practice for many doctors.” Dr. Davidson drank the remains of his soup. “No. I don’t believe in God.” “Giovanni has claimed to be an atheist for quite a few years now.” Father Dominic folded his arms and looked at Giovanni with a wistful smile. “He doesn’t see the hand of God in his life. How he was spared
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and how he is now able to help the people he loves during their greatest hour of need.” “I don’t know how you can still believe after all of this!” Giovanni glared. He regretted the explosion the moment it left his lips. “Padre, please. Let’s not have this discussion now. I have to get back to the wounded. Thank you for the soup.” He straightened and handed the bowl back to the priest. Normally he had a good grip on his anger. This place made him feel raw. His gaze met his best friend’s. Would the priest forgive him, yet again? Father Dominic patted his cheek. “One day you’ll learn that even in the greatest of tragedies, God is good. I’ll be here if you need me.”
Lucy snapped the clasp on her trunk and stood up to smooth her hair and dress. She turned to the mirror, hung on the back of the door. This berth might be small, but it had everything. She grabbed the extra fabric at her waist, pulled it tight. Would this dress look better if it actually fit? Not really. “This is at least two sizes too large.” Lucy scrunched her nose. “And it’s so ugly; I hate this shade of beige. It looks like the inside of a newborn’s diaper.” She pulled her white smock apron over her head and tied it in the back. “Even this is too big.” She moved the apron side-to-side. “I could put two of me in here.” Lucy plopped in a chair and pulled on a pair of black boots, made just like the dress; poor. A good rain would soak them through. She stood in front of the mirror again and pinned her nurse’s cap on her head. She frowned. In the sea air, her normally curly hair frizzed like a tumbleweed. “Nurse’s uniform, lady-like bun on my head,” Lucy mumbled. She tried again to get her hair to stay in place. She yanked the cap off her head.
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“This may be the look that they want, but it’s just not practical.” Lucy took the pins out of her dark auburn locks and then pulled her hair into a neat simple braid, which fell down her back. She combed her bangs forward and tilted her head to the side. “Now I look like a teenager wearing my mother’s dress, but at least my hair won’t bother me.” She gathered her cape and stethoscope and made a face at the Lucy in the mirror. “Well, you’re here, even if they don’t want to admit you’re a doctor.” She scooped up her well-worn black leather Bible and stroked it. Mother said to never be without it. Lord, I believe you’re the one who got me accepted on this ship in the first place. I believe you convinced Daddy to not only let me come, but to come with me. And I believe you’re the one who convinced the people in charge that I should replace the dear man who has asthma. Please help me do a good job. A knock at the cabin door interrupted her prayer. “Lucille, may I come in?” Her father slowly opened the door, peeked in. His mouth turned up in a smile, but his eyes spoke of worry. “You look very professional.” “Good morning, Daddy.” Lucy kissed him. Maybe if she joked she could put him at ease. “Nice try. Just look at this dress, it’s huge and it’s poo brown, and these boots, —I would have been better off with the cowboy boots that Uncle Roy gave me. Lucy shoved her cap in her pocket. The Bible she slid into her shoulder bag. “I’m ready to go, are you?” Her father’s smile became genuine. “I see what you mean about the boots, but since when do you care about what you wear? As for being ready, I think I should be asking you that. This is not an easy thing you’ve volunteered to do. If I had any indication that you intend to marry I would stop you. But you’ve chosen this spinster life and I’ll let you live it. I pray that you don’t one day regret your decisions.” 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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Lucy touched her father’s cheek. How this man had shaped her life. Now that the time came to leave she didn’t want to. “You know that the only reason they’re allowing me to go is that they don’t know what to do with me here.” Henry James chuckled. “You’re right, of course. Maybe it’s best that we just offer ourselves to God, and let Him take care of today. I’m proud of you, Daughter. I know your mother is, too.” He opened the cabin door. “After you.”
“Morphine,” Lucy called out. She read off the clipboard while her father checked the items packed and waiting on deck to be delivered. “Oh, that’s wonderful.” Around them, crewmen moved wooden boxes to waiting skiffs. Their excited chatter added to her anticipation. “Check.” Her father, three feet away, bent over the supplies. “Alcohol. Nice.” “Check” “Ether. Wow, not much of this at all.” “Check. What did you say?” Her father looked up from the crates stuffed with straw and glass bottles. “I said, there isn’t much ether. How about bandages?” The ship beneath her feet rocked and icy wind burned her cheeks. “Daddy?” What had silenced the entire crew? Lucy’s fingers grew cold. Her father stared at something. She turned to look as well. “Lord Jesus.” The appeal for mercy escaped her lips. From where she stood, she could see the entire port of Messina; and the mist shrouded Peloritani Mountains that surrounded the city. Floating objects filled the water like algae on a stagnant pond. Pieces of wood, furniture, a railway car and a ghastly amount of dead people rocked together with the motion
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of the waves. Buildings smoldered, hidden in smoky shadow. A cold yellow sun fought a losing battle with ugly gray clouds. It brought precious warmth for a moment and then vanished without a trace. A horrible odor filled her nostrils and her stomach turned. Lucy scanned the marina for the source. Her gaze fell upon the group of soldiers at one end of the harbor burning bodies pulled from the water. Along the shore near the remains of a stone pier, a small group of people, mules and carts waited. “I’ll bet they’re here to meet us.” Lucy set her clipboard on top of a crate. For sure her courage would be tested. “This is an impossible mess.” Her father’s low voice mumbled. “And you’ve volunteered to jump in the middle of it.”
“Give me your hand.” The voice sounded so familiar. Lucy stood in the rocking boat, tethered to the sailor who tried to hold it close to the dock. The fact that the heavy stone quay had sunk at one end, with the other end three feet in the air made the leap especially tricky. Her father’s hands gripped her waist from behind. She looked to see who had spoken and spied the hand that must be attached to the speaker. The owner of that hand grabbed her arm and hauled her to safety. “Miss James, if I remember correctly.” Those familiar gray eyes, that smooth Italian accent. “Would you move so I can help your father?” “I’ve got it.” Lucy wheeled about, planted her feet and took her father’s hand. Giovanni narrowed his eyes and grabbed the other. “Thank you, Lucille, Dr. Castello.” Henry James regained his balance beside them, then guided the small group toward the wagon. “Let’s step over here and give the sailors room to unload the supplies. We’ve
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brought as much as we could muster for the time-being. Though I dare say, with all the fundraising around Italy, this won’t be your only delivery. Are you Dr. Wissig?” He looked up at the bald man who sat in the cart, mouth covered with a filthy handkerchief. “I am. I hope you last longer than I did. This place is hell.” Wissig climbed down from the wagon. His gaze went to the Venezia anchored beyond the harbor. “Just to be able to breathe again will be so wonderful.” “He’s not replacing you, I am.” Oops. She spoke before she thought again. Cat’s out of the bag now. Lucy smiled at Giovanni. “You?” Dr. Castello straightened. His eyebrows went up. He looked first at Lucy and then to her father. “This is no time to joke.” “We’re not joking.” Her father handed Lucy her black leather medical kit. She ducked her head and placed the bag in the wagon, under the front seat. Dr. Castello glared at her. If he kept up, she might just have to tell him off again. The red tint to her father’s face said she wouldn’t have to say a word. “This may be hard for you to swallow,” Henry James used his most authoritative tone, “but Lucille is a capable surgeon. She fully understands the risks involved in coming and so do I. If she’s volunteered to work here, I’ll not stand in her way and neither should you.” Giovanni let out a heavy sigh. “Climb in. I’ll take you to our station. You can see for yourselves how bad our situation is.” With the wagons loaded, Henry James climbed into the back, and Lucy took the front seat. Next to her, Giovanni gathered up the reins and gave a sideways glance. He urged the mules forward, the gray sky turned even darker, Lucy felt like her heart turned gray, too. The mule’s pace through the remains of Messina only amplified the urgent need of those they passed. Rescuers crawled like ants over piles of mortar. 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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“When did you get here?” If only she could have arrived sooner. “Thirty six hours after it happened.” Giovanni shook his head. “But we had no word in Rome for two days. How did you…?”She had to know. “I have my sources.” He scowled. Then he turned. “What’s that smell?” He leaned closer and breathed in. “It’s you. Are you wearing rose water?” Was that an accusation? Lucy raised an eyebrow. “Is that okay with you? Giovanni turned the mules down a new street. “I’ll ask the patients.” Lucy watched the scene roll by. Shivering survivors dug with their bare hands. Some walked around in an insane kind of indifference, while others talked to imaginary voices that spoke to them from under tons of stone. Most of them wore little or nothing at all. “Where are their clothes?” Lucy undid the throat latch of her cloak. She’d give it away if need be. “Lucille, no!” Her father touched her shoulder. “You’ll need that cloak.” Giovanni closed his eyes and rubbed them. “It’s an ancient Italian custom to sleep in the nude. The earthquake happened while they were still in bed. That’s why they’re naked. Clothing is beginning to arrive from the mainland. You need to take care of yourself or you won’t last a week here.” Lucy re-buttoned her cloak and tried not to see the woman ten feet away quiver in the rain. They rounded a corner of debris. A soldier had a man by the collar of his soiled uniform. Giovanni stopped the mule. “What goes on here?” “This worm is a convict who escaped the prison. He was caught cutting off this woman’s finger to steal her ring.” The soldier pointed to the man’s clothing. 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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Oh. He wore a prison uniform. Then Lucy’s gaze went to a corpse on the ground. The bloated victim no longer had a ring finger. Lucy closed her eyes and turned away. The cart began to move again. “What will happen to him?” Lucy opened her eyes. She pulled her mother’s ring from her finger and handed it to her father. He put it in his breast pocket. The crack of a rifle echoed through the streets. She turned around to see the thief fall to the ground, shot through the head. There were no words to describe this place. “I’m glad you witnessed that.” Giovanni kept his gaze straight ahead. “Now maybe you’ll understand. We’re under martial law because the local prison was full. A good many of the worst felons in Sicily have escaped to pilfer what’s left of Messina. Curfew is at sunset. You must make sure you never walk these streets unattended while you’re here. This place isn’t safe for anyone. It’s even more dangerous at night. Lately, packs of wild dogs have been coming in from the mountains to feast on the dead. They’re not as bold in the daylight. The soldiers have shot hundreds of them.” Lucy shuddered. Lord please protect us. In the misty mountains above them she could almost see yellow eyes watching. “There it is.” Dr. Castello gave a nod. “That?” Lucy followed his gaze. Several large tarps had been set on poles. The sides, a collection of different colored tarps, moved in the motion of the wind.
“Thank you for coming.” Father Dominic extended his hand. The crack in his spectacles and his warm demeanor relaxed Lucy, right away. “This is Dr. Davidson from London. He’s in charge.”
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“We’re so glad you’re here.” Dr. Davidson shook Lucy’s hand and then her father’s “I’ll make sure your daughter gets safely back to the ship.” “His daughter doesn’t need an escort back to the ship. She’s the one staying.” Giovanni came from behind, hands on his hips; he narrowed his eyes at her. Dr. Davidson peered down. “Excuse me for interrupting.” Father Dominic leaned toward Lucy. Could he sense the tension? “Someone found coffee and brewed it in your honor.” He handed a cup to first to Lucy and then to Henry. “Between you and me, we haven’t had much fresh water around here. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was made with salt.” Father Dominic slurped his coffee and made a face. “Let me take them on the nickel tour.” The head doctor’s gaze never left Lucy. “Go on. We’ll settle this in a minute.” The priest led the way through a flap on a corner of the tent. “Did you say the nickel tour?” Lucy found herself in an area used both for storage and for eating. Odd shaped tables made from debris from the earthquake had been surrounded by chairs in every form Lucy could imagine. “I said that right, didn’t I?” Father Dominic rubbed his bald head. “Yes.” Lucy smiled despite her surroundings. “Have you been to America?” “No. I heard Giovanni’s Uncle Vincent use the expression. He travels to America quite a bit. I’ve been waiting to use it.” The priest smiled. “I’m glad I got it right. This is where we feed the population and ourselves. We put supplies in that corner.” He pointed to a corner with just a few boxes in it. “Were you here when this happened?” Henry James motioned for Lucy to step in front of him. 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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“Yes.” Father Dominic grew sober. “It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever experienced. Everything shook so violently I couldn’t stand. I had to crawl to the doorjamb of the church. By the time it was over, most buildings were left in rubble and the people buried under them.” “Then the water came. I spoke to one poor woman just yesterday who said that she looked out of her window and saw a large ship on top of the wave as it came toward the town. Although how she saw anything, I don’t know; it was completely dark out.” “The odd thing is that every now and then you find a house that’s barely damaged at all, standing right next to piles and piles of mortar. Only God knows the difference.” The tent and ground below them began to shake and rumble. Had God heard the priest’s remarks? Lanterns swung and glass tingled. Lucy grabbed her father to keep her balance. People everywhere started to scream. Just like that, the tremor stopped. “Aftershocks make surgery extremely difficult. Fortunately, none of them have been very strong.” Father Dominic made the sign of the cross and looked up. “And this hospital was set up the day it happened?” Lucy tried to peek through the next flap. There must be patients here somewhere. “Yes. It certainly has changed since then. When Giovanni, excuse me, Dr. Castello found me, we had been working under a plain tarp, strung between posts just to keep the rain off. Now that ships like yours are starting to arrive we at least we have more of a tent with walls and cots. Even so, supplies are painfully low. We fear an outbreak of cholera or worse might occur.” Father Dominic’s gaze met her own. “You’re headstrong. But I see compassion in your eyes. Would you like to meet the patients?” Should she be insulted or flattered? “I would.” Lucy’s father put a hand on the small of her back. She shut her mouth. “Right through here.” Father Dominic led them through the next flap. 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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The smells of blood and body odor almost knocked Lucy over; then she saw the faces of the people and wanted to meet every one. This is why she’d come here. This is why she’d studied so hard. If she gave her life here so be it. At least her life would be given for a reason. Doctor Davidson came from a room they had yet to see. He wove his way between the cots. “We’ll be sending wounded to the Venezia straight away. Are you sure you want to leave your daughter here?” “She’s going to surprise you,” Henry James squared his shoulders. How wonderful that he vouched for her. “I hope so.” Dr. Davidson crossed his arms. “Wissig really pulled his own weight around here. She’ll be hard-pressed to fill his shoes. If she can’t, I’m sending her back.” He shook hands with her father. Henry James grabbed Lucy and planted a kiss on her forehead. “God be with you, Daughter. I’ll be in touch before we ship out. Just because I stood up for you doesn’t mean I not afraid for you. Do your job. Do not be a hero. Be strong. And don’t take guff from anyone, especially him.” Henry James nodded toward Dr. Castello who disappeared out the door of the tent. “I promise to behave. And don’t worry, I can handle him.” Lucy patted her father’s whiskery cheek. “It’s not handling him that worries me.” Henry James gave Lucy one final hug and stepped into the rain. Lucy swallowed the lump in her throat. From behind her, she could feel Dr. Davidson’s stare. She turned, taking in the image of the pitiful tent and then gave her attention to the physician in charge. He shifted his weight and adjusted his glasses. “If we weren’t so desperate for help I would have insisted that you leave with your father. You’d better not be a hindrance. For now, I want you to assist Dr. 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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Castello.” He stuck his head out of the tent and shouted, “Dr. Castello, may I have a word with you?” The Sicilian ducked inside and spied Lucy with her bag at her feet. She gave him a sarcastic smile. He scowled. “Dr. Castello.” Dr. Davidson put an arm around the irritated man. “I’d like you to meet your new assisting physician.” Dr. Castello closed his eyes. “You think this is funny, don’t you?” “Extremely.” Dr. Davidson patted the doctor on the back. “Please be sure to make her welcome and, oh yes, have Sister Francesca assign her to a cot.” With a soft chuckle he left them. Lucy stared up at her new boss. Giovanni stared back. Lucy waited “If you’ll come this way, we’ll assign you to a cot, and then we can get to work.” He turned and she followed him further into the tent. “We work very quickly under long hours.” Giovanni walked briskly. “Our primary job is to mend what we can and send the worst to the arriving ships. Unfortunately, the ships fill up fast, so we end up doing a lot of what should be done in a sterile environment. The people we cannot fix are in that corner.” He motioned. “From that end of the tent they can be most easily moved to be burned once they’ve died.” “After we’ve done our job, the nurses and volunteers prepare patients and their families to be transported out of Messina. There are groups of people working at every train station in every major city in Italy to receive the profughi. However, not all of the profughi are willing to leave Messina. You’ll meet them as well. They come here for food, clothing, blankets, medical attention or anything else that we can distribute.” Giovanni walked Lucy to the farthest section of the tarps. Two makeshift rooms had been created, up against a brick wall. “This is your suite, signorina.” Giovanni pushed the flap aside and Lucy followed him into the space that the doctors and nurses used to sleep when circumstances 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF 5.83″x8.27″ PROOF
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allowed. A large curtain had been strung to separate the men’s area from the women’s. To the side of the room stood a surly-looking old nun. Gray hair peeked out from under her habit, which seemed to be on too tight. It made her look a bit surprised as well as cross. “This is Sister Francesca, the nurse in charge.” He picked up a roll of socks that had fallen to the ground and gave them to the nun. “Sister, this is Lucille James. She’s my new assistant. Do you have a cot for her in here? Or does she need to sleep with the men? She’s a doctor, you know.” The gruff nun turned her dark eyes to Lucy and then pointed to the lumpiest cot in the room, the one up against the curtain, in the corner. “You can take that one.” She looked Lucy over from head to toe. “Dottore? I wonder how long you’ll last.” She lifted her tray of bandages and disappeared through the door. Lucy removed her cloak and retied her apron. She pulled her stethoscope from her pocket, hung it around her neck and made sure that her clinical thermometer was where it should be. Dr. Castello waited at the door, watching her every move. Oh, it’s going to be hard keeping my mouth shut.
“Unless I tell you, you’ll only assist me.” Dr. Castello spoke with his back to her. The surgery held two tables for operations and several counters full of instruments and supplies. With walls of tarp and a cobblestone floor, the surprisingly clean room, smelled of antiseptic. Rain hammered the tarp above and dripped down the walls outside. “You mean I’ll be your nurse.” Lucy bit her tongue. Too late. This guy had already met her temper once. Why should she hide it? Her partner stiffened, and turned to face her.
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“You will be doing whatever I tell you.” Dr. Castello steeled his eyes. “Once your skills have been proven, the other table might be yours. Then you might be allowed to work alone; for now, you will help me.” “Why…” “Silence.” He stared at her. Daring her to speak. Lucy narrowed her eyes but shut her mouth. She’d prove herself. “If you need to throw up, your bucket is there.” He pointed to the pail on the ground. “If you pass out on me more than once, I will send you back to the ship. Welcome to hell, Miss James. You’ve no idea what you’ve just signed up to do.”

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