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"He's gotta go."
The words on the tape player ricocheted off the prison walls. I knew that voice like it was my own brother. It was Sal Bastone, the big greasy-headed son of a bitch who ran the Chicago mob's North Side crew, the guy the FBI called a high-ranking Outfit "loan shark and racketeer." Sal and I went way back -- to the sixties, when I was on the police force in Willow Springs, Illinois.
It may be hard to imagine a cop being involved with the Outfit, but a guy in that position can be very useful to organized crime, and I was no exception. Like a lot of underpaid police officers, I was more than willing to "look the other way." But during the ten years I worked with the Bastone crew, I became more than just a crooked cop who turned his head for a price. I became Sal Bastone's bagman, his gun man, his driver, and his courier -- as well as his best friend.
The tape player was still on, but it wasn't Sal Bastone I was hearing now. Another voice said, "Gotta go? You mean ... GO?" It was Gerry Scarpelli and he sounded shocked. "You sure we're talkin' about the same fuckin' guy? I mean, Jesus ... this is your fuckin' man out west we're talkin' about, right? Your goddamned driver ...MIKE?"
My stomach turned. I couldn't believe my ears. Sal was telling Gerry to whack me. Me. And I was supposed to be Sal's best friend. At least I'd thought I was. Of course, unlike Gerry, I wasn't about to reveal my feelings on the matter -- not with two FBI agents sitting right across the table from me, watching my every move.
"Yeah," Sal said impatiently. "Yeah ... we're talkin' about the same guy ... MIKE. Like I said, he's gotta go. We got a major problem here. I don't know if you seen he got indicted. But some people are concerned about the situation ... you hear what I'm sayin'? So that's that. He's gotta go."
Gerry's voice went shrill, "Okay, okay ... I hear you. But you know, his goddamned kid is with him wherever he fuckin' goes ... what about the kid?"
At the mention of my son Joey, my stomach did another nose-dive. Sal Bastone could have me whacked, fine. But a defenseless little kid? Joey has Down's syndrome. He's just a baby. He's also Sal Bastone's godson. I couldn't imagine that Sal would ever go along with anything that might hurt Joey.
Sal went on, "Hey, I don't give a rat's ass who the fuck's with him. Like I said ... the cocksucker's gotta go. Okay? You fuckin' got that? So do what you gotta do. Just get the job done. This isn't just me talkin' ... This is comin' from up top, from you-know-who ... you understand what I'm sayin' here?"
I guess having the order to take me out come from Chicago's top man on the street, Joey Lombardo -- who Sal had always referred to as "you know who" -- lessened the shock to some extent. I wasn't surprised to hear that Lombardo wanted me taken out; he'd always hated me. Forget any loyalty I'd shown to the Outfit, I'd always been a badge to him. And I wasn't surprised that Sal would go along with the idea, either. In my line of work you have to be a realist. Business is business. So I could live with Sal's betrayal of our friendship. It was his total lack of compassion for my son Joey that I couldn't handle.
One of the agents hit stop on the tape player. "So there you have it," he said. "What do you think of your old friend Sal Bastone now?"
Since 1989 the Justice Department had tried everything they could think of to get me to turn and go into the federal witness protection program. Up to this point, nothing had worked. But I guess they figured that hearing my best friend planning to whack me and my kid would do the trick, that Michael Jerome Corbitt, Tallahassee inmate 96751-024 and former Willow Springs chief of police, would finally cooperate, go WITSEC, and disappear into Numb Nuts, Iowa.
The other agent shook his head and sighed. "Sounds like Sal Bastone doesn't care who's in the way when they come after you, Mike ... even if it's your kid."
I glared back at him.
He threw up his hands and shrugged. "Hey, man, don't blame us ... It wasn't our idea to play the tape. You wanted to hear it."
His partner nodded. "And now that you've heard it, what are you gonna do about it?" He leaned forward and folded his hands on the table. "You tell me, Mike ... what's it gonna be?"
Our eyes met and then -- whoa -- it was déjà vu. All of a sudden, no more agents. Instead it was Sam Giancana, the infamous Chicago mob boss, staring back at me. "So what's it gonna be, kid?" Giancana asked. His dark eyes were shining out from under a black fedora. "You wanna be a cop?"
A chill ran up my spine. It had been years since Sam Giancana asked me that. Back then, in the sixties, I was just an overgrown juvenile delinquent with a leather jacket and a lot of attitude. I'd looked up to Outfit guys like they were gods. So of course I'd said yes to Sam Giancana -- even though I didn't have the slightest desire to be a goddamned cop.
"Good," Giancana said. "But just remember, kid ... don't forget who your friends are." And then Sam Giancana winked, like me and the world's greatest mob boss shared some big fucking secret.Double Deal