Luca Aiello, PI
By: Joseph DiAntonio
I was born in the south. South Brooklyn. During my youth, I was raised in an Italian-American neighborhood filled with rich culture and vivid characters that have influenced my writing. I hope this brings enjoyment to you, the reader, as the characters of my books are based on these real-life people with whom I grew up.
“No. Noo. Noooo. It can’t be,” I cried as the policeman told me I needed to come over right away. He said my best friend was dead and that he’d gotten my name and phone number from a note in his pocket.
I ran out of my hotel as fast as I could. It was only three blocks to Emilio’s house. A misty rain made it a dreary morning.
As I ran, the sound of my feet hitting the wet pavement echoed in my ears and sent a shiver through me. I made it to Emilio’s house and ran up the stairs two at a time.
A policeman answered the door. I could hear Luciano Pavarotti singing Tosca in the background.
“I’m Luca, Luca Aiello,” I cried out. “What happened here? Who are you and what are you doing here?”
“My name is Captain Carlo Beneuti,” he answered, standing at attention. “I’m with the Carabinieri State police.”
“This is the house of my friend Dr. Emilio Costa,” I yelled. “What’s going on here?”
“Your friend Dr. Emilio Costa is dead.”
“Dead?” I asked, shocked. “Getouttahere!”
“Your friend Dr. Costa has committed suicide.”
“What do you mean he committed suicide? I don’t believe it,” I screamed. “You must be crazy. He would never do such a thing.”
“He was distraught over this Mafia black market blood ring he was involved in,” said Captain Beneuti. “That’s why he took his life.”
“Where is he? I want to see him.”
“You can’t. He’s in the morgue. They are doing an autopsy now. He killed himself by sticking a knife in his heart.”
“That doesn’t seem possible. How could he stick a knife in his own heart?”
“Why does it seem impossible? He’s a doctor and knows anatomy. He would know exactly where to place the knife into the chest to hit the heart with a lethal blow. Besides, no one was seen entering or leaving the house. So, it had to be suicide. Tell me, please—why would the doctor have your name and phone number in his pocket? Are you involved with him with this Mafia black market blood ring?”
“I am a friend of the doctor. I’ve known him since we were kids in Brooklyn.”
“Brooklyn, New York? I heard that is where the Mafia has their home base.”
“Yes, New York. But I have nothing to do with the Mafia. He asked me to come to Bologna to listen to him give a lecture at the University of Bologna. I just can’t believe he committed suicide.”
“Since you are such a friend of his, what do you know about the tainted blood he was working on?”
“Not too much. All I know is he was very upset over it.”
“What do you mean upset?”
“Well, he said people got very sick and he worried over it. He was concerned about his profession.”
“Just what was his profession?”
“Dr. Costa was a medical doctor and a Professor of Blood and Marrow Transplantation. He was also a renowned international blood banker here in Italy.”
“So, what about the tainted blood? Did he sell any of it?”
“No, he didn’t. I told you he was concerned about it. He worried about his clients. He asked me to come to Bologna because I’m a retired New York City policeman who is now a private investigator. He thought I could help him clear up this issue of the tainted blood. That’s why I am here now. I still don’t believe he committed suicide. I think he was murdered. I know he had nothing to do with the Mafia nor the tainted blood.”
“Why are you yelling at me?” He tilted his head. “I’m not the bad guy here.”
“Nether am I. You are trying to make me the bad guy. But I’m not.”
He pointed to a metal chair. “Ah siediti. Have a seat.”
He took out a picture and asked, “Where did you take this picture?”
“I don’t know. It could have been any place. It probably was at the lecture in the University of Bologna. As I said, I don’t know.”
“The guy with you is a Mafia Don.”
“How do you know that? Who took the picture?”
“It was one of my moles. It was taken at the University of Bologna.”
“That’s what I said. What’s going on here? What are you trying to do? That must have been when Dr. Costa was giving his lecture.”
“Why would you take a picture with someone you’d never seen before?”
“I told you, I never saw him before.”
“OK. You can go. Just make sure that you don’t leave Italy until I tell you that you can. Capisci? Understand?”
“Capsica. I understand. Ciao.”
I can’t believe I just arrived in Italy to meet my friend Emilio and listen to his lecture in Bologna.
As I drove to the university, I couldn’t help thinking of the good times Emilio and I had in the Italian section of Benson Hurst in Brooklyn, New York as kids. We both went to PS 128 on 27th Ave and played handball on the side of the local pharmacy building with the gang. There was Petey Blue, who wanted to become a policeman when he grew up, Gino, who wanted to become a wise guy with the Mafia, and Tony, who wanted to become a priest. Then there was Emilio, who wanted to be a doctor. It seemed like just yesterday. Then Emilio did become a doctor and moved to Bologna, where he eventually became a Professor at the University of Bologna.
I became a New York City detective and eventually a lieutenant in charge of a unit called OCCB, the Organized Crime Control Bureau, specializing in Mafia-related crime. Now that I’ve retired, I do private investigating work. That’s why Emilio asked me to come to Bologna; he said he was having trouble with his blood bank. The trouble is, he didn’t tell me what the problem was.
When I got to the lecture hall at the University of Bologna, it was packed as my friend Professor Emilio Costa delivered his lecture based on his new medical textbook, “Modern Blood Disorders.” This was an event for Emilio.
After all, the University of Bologna, founded in AD 1888, is ranked as one of the top 500 Universities in the world. It’s one of the first ever established. Many of the most famous and respected scientific researchers from around the world listened attentively as Emilio skillfully explained how researchers at the University of Bologna discovered new and emerging blood disorders that have the potential to disrupt society. By the look on their faces and the intensity with which they took notes, I could tell they took this very seriously. These were the top scientists in their field.
A cocktail party followed his speech, and I assumed Emilio would be totally absorbed with the company of his peers praising him for releasing his findings. To my surprise, Emilio excused himself and, grabbing me by the arm, led me to a private room.
“Luca,” Emilio said, a look of terror in his eyes. “I invited you to come here today because I need to tell you something very important.”
“What is it, Emilio? You seem very troubled on such a happy night.”
“You are right, Luca. Normally I would be happy on a night like this. But during my research, I came across something very disturbing. There’s a danger involving the blood supply.”
“I got that from your lecture.” Trying to show my intelligence, I rattled off what I heard him say. “There are dangers from new, unidentified viruses. See, I was paying attention.”
Nervously turning his head to check if anyone was around listening, Emilio said with intensity in his voice, “Yes, yes, you are correct. Listen, Luca; there’s something far more serious.
We found a virus…a virus type we’ve never seen before. That’s what’s so upsetting. We found it in the black market blood we tested that the Mafia sells.”
“Getouttahere…what are you talking about? Emilio, I’m shocked. Are you trying to tell me there’s a black market blood ring, and the Mafia is involved in it?”
“Yes. And the government can’t do anything about it because the Mafia has such an influence with them that their hands are tied. They can’t do anything about it. Believe me.”
Just then, Giovanni Aldovandi, the Director of Bologna University’s School of Medicine, opened the door. “Professor Costa, here you are. Please, all the guests are looking for you. You must come and join them. After all, many of them traveled great distances and have many questions for you.”
“Yes Director, you are right. I’m sorry for breaking away for a moment.”
As Emilio walked out, he turned and bent down, whispering to me, “Luca, this is serious. Meet me at my house tomorrow night at about 7 so I can tell you more.”
“I’ll be there,” I said. “I’ll see you then. Ciao.”
As I went back to my hotel, I couldn’t help thinking about what Emilio told me about the Mafia. I worked with the New York City Police Department against the Mafia for almost twenty years, and I knew how destructive they could be. They were merciless. Once they got onto something, they never gave it up.
I decided to do some investigating myself to see what I could come up with. I contacted my ex-police captain in New York, Anthony Cabrata.
I asked him if he knew anything of the Mafia black market blood in New York City.
“Tony, this is Luca.”
“Luca, where are you?” he asked. “I thought you went to Italy?”
“Yes. I’m in Bologna. I came to see my friend Dr. Emilio Costa. You remember him?”
“Yes, it’s been a long time since I spoke with him,” he replied. “How’s he doing?”
“Not too good. He’s involved with a large blood bank here in Italy, and the Mafia is giving him a hard time. I wanted to find out if you know anything about the Mafia’s involvement in the black market blood there.”
“Believe it or not, I received a bulletin just last month telling all the department heads about that. They mentioned there’s potential for that going on in the south, but nothing definite up here yet. They asked us to be on the lookout for any black market blood or any black market body parts. That’s a big business with the Mafia. I know we investigated some kidney and heart parts, but nothing involving black market blood.”
“Thanks, Tony. I appreciate it. How are things going without me?”
“I tell you, it’s not too easy, but we are managing.”
“Thanks for your time. Ciao.”
“Ciao and watch yourself. We do miss you.”
The next day, I couldn’t help but think about what Emilio told me the night before. It was getting dark when I arrived. The city was eerie and cold as I walked down the street. The glow of the street lights sent a chill running down my neck. I was thinking about the things Emilio told me at the University. I couldn’t wait to hear what he was going to tell me now. I knocked on his door.
When he answered, he said, “Buon giorno Luca, antra. Come in, so glad you came.”
“Grazie tante. Thank you very much,” I said gracefully.
“Emilio! What’s going on?” I asked, concerned. “What’s this about the Mafia selling black market blood?”
“My friend Luca, you are not a doctor nor a blood banker as I am, so you will not understand all the details, but let me give you a simple explanation.” With a look of deep concern, Professor Costa went on. “To provide all the blood products used in modern medicine, blood is collected from hundreds of people and then pooled together in vats, where it is fractionated for use in various ways, such as the manufacturing of drugs.
The legal collecting of blood is regulated, but the Mafia blood is not. Unknown to most people, there is a black market for blood. The Mafia collects and traffics blood from Africa and India and other depressed third world countries. This blood is then mixed in with blood that has been collected under more controlled government regulated programs.”
He took a deep breath. “Luca. I came across this illegal black market blood distribution system that is run by the Mafia,” he said with a serious voice. “They get the blood from aliens and derelicts and mix it with the good blood, then sell it as black market blood all over the world.”
“I’m not sure I understand. Who would use this blood?”
“Good question. Blood is big business. A multi-billion-dollar industry. Many medicines are produced from pooled human blood, but since there’s often not enough blood from government regulated donations, it creates the market for black market blood.”
“I’m shocked to hear this. Are there many drugs made from blood?”
“Yes. Many, my friend. Surprisingly, even the doctors who use them often do not realize they contain fractionated blood. Worse yet, they are unfamiliar with the hidden dangers. For example, Plasmanate is used in the treatment of shock due to burns or abdominal emergencies when there’s a major loss of plasma. Prolastin is used to help people who lack a protein that prevents the breakdown of tissues in the lungs. Albumin expands plasma volume when one has a low blood count. The list goes on and on.”
“Emilio, you’re telling me all these drugs are made with blood and some doctors don’t even know it?”
“That’s right, Luca. These and many other medicines are prepared from large pools of human plasma—blood that might come from more than one hundred donors. These drugs carry warnings stating that products made from human plasma may contain infectious agents, such as viruses that can cause disease.
Now while it’s true that the risks have been reduced by screening and other processes, such products can still potentially transmit disease.”
“Now I see why you are so concerned.”
“But Luca, there’s more. For years, key opinion leaders in the scientific community have feared that unknown infectious agents may be present in such products. That’s why we are constantly monitoring the blood supply in our laboratory at the University of Bologna.”
“I see. And that’s why you’re so concerned—because you found something.”
“Exactly! We found something that could be devastating. Disastrous!”
What a story he’s telling me, I thought. This is so hard to believe.
“But that’s not all,” he added. “We found a strange type of virus that is extremely deadly.”
“Did you say a strange type of virus?”
“Yes, I did.”
“The trouble is, it’s not a standard strain. We found nothing like it in any of the world’s virus databases. It’s a hybrid type that can be injected into the world blood supply and contaminate all the medicines and serums manufactures make from pooled blood. Even worse…we fear it might get into the blood used for transfusions.”
“Getouttahere!” I yelled. I was shocked.
“I’m serious,” he said. “When I tested some of the illegal Mafia blood, I found this virus and couldn’t believe it. I had Sofia, my assistant, double check my findings and she came up with the same conclusions.”
I asked him, “Does anyone else know about this?”
“Only my research assistant Sofia,” he said. “She was with me when I spoke with Abhishek Chaudhary of the World Health Origination, or WHO, in India last month.”
“What were you doing in India?” I asked.
“Luca, I went to India to check on the underground blood black market. They export a lot of illegally harvested blood to other countries like Italy. We have ways of keeping track of this blood and analyzing it to make sure it’s not posing a major health problem. However, based on our recent findings, I’ve got to get to the bottom of this. We must find the source of the problem and cut it off before a worldwide disaster occurs.
Abhishek Chaudhary also told me about the blood shortage in India. He said that there is a 25% blood shortage in India alone. For their 1.2 billion population, they need at least 12 million units of blood a year, but they only receive around 9 million. This adds up to about 2 billion dollars a year in underground black market blood in India alone.”
I asked, frowning, “Isn’t there anything that the authorities can do about this?”
“There isn’t much they can do because of the power the Mafia has on the government in Italy.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. There has to be something we can do.”
“Luca. I’m telling you there is nothing you can do,” he whispered, “because the government won’t allow you to.”
“Listen, Emilio, I’ve got to go. It’s getting late, and I am beat after listening to all this blood business. I need to clear my head. Have a nice night and I’ll see you in the morning.”
“OK, Luca. I’ll see you in the morning. Ciao.”
“Ciao.” I hated to leave him sulking about this blood issue, but my head was spinning, and I needed to go home and clear my mind.
As I sat and ate breakfast in my room, I could not help but feel sorry for Emilio. He was so distraught last night. My sorrowful thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the ringing of the telephone.
“Luca. This is Emilio. I was just arrested this morning and they have me at the police headquarters right now,” he cried. “Can you come down?”
“Why did they arrest you?”
“They say I am involved with the Mafia, and they arrested me.”
I tried to put him at ease. “I’ll be right down. Just hang on.”
I rushed down to the police headquarters. Emilio was sitting on a large wooden bench with his head in his hands. “Emilio,” I yelled.
He looked up, jumped off the bench, and put his arms around me.
“Mi amigo. My friend,” he said as he hugged me. “It’s so good to see you.”
“Emilio. What’s going on here? Why did they arrest you?”
“I told you, they say I am involved with the Mafia. I told them I’m not, but they don’t believe me. They say since I run a large blood bank I must be in with the Mafia, and they say I went to India to collect money.” He started to cry. “I don’t know what to do. What should I do?” he pleaded. “Tell me, what should I do?”
“Take it easy now. Let’s find out what the police want. Who arrested you?”
He pointed to a door that had a sign that read Sargent Franco.
I went over and knocked on the door.
“Antra,” he said. “Come in.”
“Buongiorno. Good morning. My name is Luca, Luca Aiello. I am an ex-New York City police lieutenant. I am a friend of Dr. Emilio Costa. What do you want from him?”
“We took him in because the chief prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for him based on information that he is in with the Mafia and is taking money for selling tainted black market blood.”
“What kind of proof do you have that he took money from the Mafia?”
“We have a picture of him with a couple of Mafia thugs in India.”
“Can I see the picture?”
He took it out of the drawer. “Sure. Here it is.”
“What makes you say this was taken in India and that the two men with him are Mafia?”
“The one who took the picture is my informant, and he said they are two of the top Mafioso Capos in India.”
“I don’t think this is enough proof to convict him.”
“Well, the chief prosecutor seems to think it’s enough,”
“What chief prosecutor? The one whose son was just indicted on money laundering? Fuhgeddaboudit. He’s going to be too busy taking care of his son. He won’t have time for this case.”
“He said that he wanted him arrested, so I arrested him. I did my job, now he has to do his.”
“But you don’t have any other proof. Dr. Costa is a very respected doctor in his field. He is recognized all over the world.”
“That doesn’t make any difference,” he sighed. “The state senate says the black market blood must be dealt with, and they want it stopped. NOW!”
“But why pick on someone like Dr. Emilio Costa? I mean, he’s the last one you would think is involved with the Mafia. I would think you would need more information and proof than you have. Being an ex-lieutenant in the police force, I know that you don’t have enough proof.”
“All I know is the prosecutor said we have enough and to arrest him. So, I did. You must talk to him. I have nothing to do with it now.”
“What do you think? Do you think you have enough proof to convict him?”
“Like I said, it’s not up to me. It’s up to the prosecutor to convict him. It doesn’t matter what I think.”
“I understand. I guess we’ll need a lawyer.”
“I think you do,” he replied. “Get him a good lawyer. He’s going to need one.”
“OK. Ciao. Thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure talking to you,” I said, thinking he seemed so snotty.
I left the office and went to talk with Emilio.
“Emilio. The Sargent tells me he has a picture of you with two Mafioso Capos. Where did you take the picture?”
“I don’t know, Luca. It could have been any place.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It probably was at one of my lectures. I always have someone asking me to take a picture with them. I’m not sure. Could have been any place.”
“Well, we are going to have to get a lawyer for you. Do you know any lawyers in the area? A good lawyer?”
“Yes. Mr. Jacob Beta. I figured I was going to need a lawyer. I have his card right here in my wallet. He is a friend of mine. We play golf every week at the Via Sabatini Golf Club in Bologna. Can you give him a call?”
“Sure. I’ll give him a call right now.”
Emilio was shaking with fright. He had tears in his eyes and couldn’t hold his head up. He was a mess.
I called the lawyer, and he arrived in about an hour.
He asked, “Coma stai, Emilio? How are you?”
“Non va bene, Jacopo. I’m not doing so good. This is a very good friend of mine, Luca Aiello. He’s from my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. He came to Bologna to help me figure out what’s going on with the Mafia underground blood supply.”
“Hello, Mr. Jacopo. Pleasure meeting you. Yes, the police say he went to India to collect money from the Capos.”
“That’s right. The police arrested me because they say I am working with the Mafia in this black market blood ring, and they say I am getting money from them. What can you do?”
“Emilio?” he asked. “I need more information. Where did this picture take place?”
“Like I told Luca, it could have been at any one of my lectures. Many that attend want me to take a picture with them.”
“Well, I don’t understand how they could arrest you with no evidence. What else do they have besides the picture?”
“Nothing,” I said. “The only thing they have is the picture. I told them it wasn’t enough, but they said that it was all they needed because the chief prosecutor wanted him arrested and that was that.”
“You have to understand,” said Mr. Beta, “that in Italy, you are guilty until proven innocent. Now, who is the arresting officer?”
I pointed to the door with his name on it. “Sargent Franko.”
He went over and knocked on the door.
I told Emilio to take it easy now that the lawyer was there. I assured him that he would straighten things out.
“I hope so,” said Emilio. “I sure hope so.”
He came out about three quarters of an hour later and approached us.
He said, “Here’s the story. They won’t release you because they insist you are working with the Mafia, and they are afraid the Mafia will try to get rid of you because they think you will squeal on them. So, I talked them into putting you under house arrest. The police will monitor your house and make sure the Mafia cannot get to you.
That’s the best deal I could make. I talked my head off, but they just wouldn’t relent. Sargent Franco told me he had to arrest you because the chief prosecutor wants to put an end to this black market blood problem. He said that the state senate wants this stopped as well, and they are putting pressure on everyone involved with it.”
Turning to look directly at me, he said, “Mr. Luca, I understand you did everything you could do. Emilio also feels the same. But he’s in a little shock right now.”
“I understand, but I am worried about him.”
“Now I must do some checking and see what I can come up with,” said Mr. Beta. “I will check back with you when I find out something.”
Mr. Beta put up Emilio’s bail, so the police and I brought Emilio home and put him to bed. He was beat after this affair. He still couldn’t believe he was arrested.
“Bono notti. Good night, Emilio,” I said.
I left. I felt bad for him. He was so distraught.
The next morning, I got the call. At Emilio’s home, Captain Beneuti told me that my friend Emilio had committed suicide by sticking a knife in his heart.
Things only got worse after that as he grilled me about Emilio’s involvement with the Mafia. In fact, the more he spoke, the more intimidating he became. Frankly, he really started to irritate me.
“A siediti. Have a seat.” He pointed to a metal chair and smiled. “Let’s sit and talk calmly.”
“Well,” he said, taking a photo out of his vest pocket and throwing it on the table. “Do you recognize this man in the photo?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Not you. The other man, who you are talking with.”
“No. I vaguely remember his face, but I didn’t have a conversation with him. I think we just said hello to each other at the bar when we got our drinks.”
“This man is Carlos Baladucci. He’s a known associate of Don Contini, who runs the black market blood traffic,” said Captain Beneuti. “Here you are seen having a drink with him, and you tell me you don’t even know him?”
My eyes opened wide and all I could do was shake my head in disbelief. A known Mafia associate at Dr. Emilio’s party?
Captain Beneuti slapped another photo on the table. “I suppose you don’t know this lovely young woman either?”
“No. I’m guessing you are going to tell me she is also involved with this blood trafficking.”
Captain Beneuti snapped, “That’s right. This woman, with a drink in one hand and her other hand on your chest, is the girlfriend of Jimmy Tufa Campanero. She’s his gumada, you understand? Jimmy is a Mafia lieutenant in this underground organization, and this is his girlfriend.”
“Sorry. I don’t know the woman. She turned and bumped into me. I think she had a little too much good Italian vino. I’d never met her before, and I never spoke with her.”
“Looks like she’s pretty friendly with you.”
“Captain, are you accusing me of being involved in this underground blood trafficking? Seems like I’m being set up.”
Beneuti asked sternly, “So, what about the tainted blood? Did Dr. Costa sell any of it?”
“No, he didn’t. I told you he was concerned about it because of the dangers involved. You know, that stuff is not properly screened. He was very worried about his clients. He asked me to come to Bologna because I’m a retired lieutenant in the New York City Police Department. Now that I’m a private investigator, he thought I could help him clear up this issue of the tainted blood. That’s why I am here.
I still don’t believe he committed suicide. I’m convinced he was murdered, and I’m going to clear his name. I know that he had nothing to do with the Mafia nor the tainted blood, and I intend to clear his name.”
“Why are you yelling at me?” He frowned. “I am not the bad guy here.”
“Well, nether am I. A fa Nabhila,” I replied. “Go to hell.”
“OK. I guess that will be all for now. You can go; just don’t leave Italy until I tell you that you can.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t! Ciao.”
Boy, this guy really has it in for me, I thought.
I wondered why as I walked back to my hotel. Captain Beneuti left a bad taste in my mouth. I couldn’t get over the way he thought that I had anything to do with the Mafia. I really needed to do my own investigation.