The Esposito Caper
Genre Mystery Crime
Tags Art heist, crime, Italy, organized crime, ballet, New Haven, Catholic, Italian, theft, San Francisco, Mafia, the Mob, event planning, winemaking, Santa Cruz Mountains, dysfunctional families, wineries, Sicily, Palermo, art forgery, caper, amateur criminals
Release October 18, 2013
Editor Nancy Bell
Line Editor Shawn Arnston
Cover Designer Marion Sipe
Crime is easy. Family is what’s tough. And for Gino Esposito, family obligations could be the end of him. His grandfather wants to prove he’s the genius behind another artist’s works. All he needs is for Gino to steal a diary that’s currently in the possession of the Mafia.
Gino will do almost anything to work an angle, but he’s thinking this task could be his last. He needs help, but all he’s got is cousin Carla, exotic dancer with aspirations of opening a ballet studio, and girlfriend Francesca, whose boss has got her framed for embezzlement. It’s a recipe for family problems only faith, luck, and some really good mojo will solve.
Gino took the scrapbook back to the hard chair and began to read. The first entry told of DeMontana’s death at the age of eighty-six in 1987. The June eleventh edition of Il Testamento proclaimed “Art World Mourns the Passing of the Master.” It gave a brief biography along with mentioning several of the artist’s more popular works. Cause of death was attributed to a heart attack.
Subsequent clippings added over the next twenty years chronicled the escalating value of DeMontana’s works which seemed to increase with each new revelation of his sexual liaisons. Adulterous affairs weren’t anything newsworthy in Italy where mistresses were an add-on clause in most marriage contracts of the rich and powerful. What was noteworthy, however, was the emergence in 1988 of one particular woman as a potential power player in the disposition of the artist’s fortune. Donna Napolitano claimed to have a signed and notarized copy of DeMontana’s most recent will, bequeathing her a large share of the estate along with villas in Tuscany and Milano. The looming litigation was heaven-sent for the press, but before a court date could be determined, Napolitano died in a skiing accident in Grenoble after plummeting headlong into a tree. After a few days, the story died with her, and later that year, DeMontana’s widow, Bianca, departed Florence to take up permanent residence in the United States.
The San Francisco Bay Reporter’s Society page led with the story “Bianca DiCicco DeMontana Welcomed by San Francisco Society.” It was a full page spread showing the merry widow attending a gala celebration at the DeYoung. Gino studied the photograph of a tall, willowy, ash blonde in a Dior gown accented with a queen’s ransom in jewels. She held a cigarette in a jewel-encrusted holder and a wreath of smoke swirled around her head like a dirty halo. His interest ratcheted up a notch. He continued turning the pages.
Then six years ago, just as his grandfather had said, the thefts had begun. To date, eight paintings by DeMontana had been stolen from showings and private collections. The first had been taken from a collection on loan to the Brancicci Gallery in New York City. The gallery owner hadn’t been insured, and the insurance company of the painting’s owner was refusing to pay. It was a legal quagmire.
In two other thefts from private homes in Los Angeles and San Francisco, a crowbar had been found outside a jimmied window. The art had been taken while the owners were attending a society function. In the remaining cases, the burglars had gained entry without setting off the alarm system. The police speculated the thieves had keys to the homes and, once inside, were able to disarm the systems. Police were pursuing several leads and were questioning “people of interest,” but no arrests had been made. In one clip, a harried-looking Inspector Liz Paone of the SFPD’s Art Theft Division was shown fielding questions in a roomful of reporters. She didn’t have any answers to give them. “Police Come up Empty in Art Thefts” the headline chided.
Gino flipped through the remaining pages. A shaky hand had scribbled “Mine! Mine!” or “Dominic!” in the margins of all the theft accounts.
“Do you understand now?” Emiliano had awakened from his nap and was watching his grandson read through the scrapbook. “Bianca has the diary and wants to make sure no one ever discovers what DeMontana did. She won’t stop until she’s taken all of my work to protect her fortune. You must stop her, Gino. You must get the diary and keep her from completing what she has begun. If she succeeds, there will be nothing left of my art for the future generations to appreciate. It will be as if I never was. That my life has meant nothing. That is a pill much too bitter to swallow.”