Mafia Summerby E.Duke Vincent
August 1950: A brutal mob takeover is about to set Hell's Kitchen on fire.
Vinny Vesta and Sidney Butcher are an unlikely pair of friends. One is a tough Sicilian Hell's Kitchen gang leader, and the other is a sickly but brilliant Orthodox Jewish boy who lives next door. But after they meet on a fire escape during the blistering New York City summer of/b>
August 1950: A brutal mob takeover is about to set Hell's Kitchen on fire.
Vinny Vesta and Sidney Butcher are an unlikely pair of friends. One is a tough Sicilian Hell's Kitchen gang leader, and the other is a sickly but brilliant Orthodox Jewish boy who lives next door. But after they meet on a fire escape during the blistering New York City summer of 1950, a friendship takes off.
When Gee-gee Petrone, a ruthless and brilliant mobster, puts into motion a plan to knock out the other mob bosses and to make himself capo di tutti capos, Vinny finds himself caught in the crossfire. Now Vinny has to put to use everything he's recently learned to survive-and, with the help of his gang of up-and-coming young mobsters, the Icemen, to get his revenge on Petrone.
Based on actual events, Mafia Summer brilliantly fictionalizes the pivotal moment in Mafia history when Vito Genovese attempted to undo Frank Costello and become the leader of the Luciano family. At the heart of this classic tale of the Mob, replete with plot twists, violence, and suspense, is the story of an unforgettable friendship and an indelible portrait of an era.
“Influenced more by Billy Bathgate than by The Godfather…Sweet, affectionate, and bloody: a glance backward to a well-spent youth.” Kirkus Reviews
“One of the best books on the mafia I have ever read. Right up there with The Godfather.” New York Times bestselling author Jack Higgins
- Bloomsbury USA
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MAFIA SUMMERA NOVEL
By E. DUKE VINCENT
BLOOMSBURYCopyright © 2005 E. Duke Vincent
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSummer 1950
The first time I laid eyes on the kid, he was sitting on his fire escape four stories above the street. It was almost midnight, and he was squinting through wire-rimmed glasses, holding a flashlight and reading a book. I had just crawled out onto my adjacent fourth-floor fire escape and was settling onto the mat my mother had placed on its steel grating. The kid was so focused on his book, he didn't seem to see or even hear me.
Our fire escapes were only three feet apart and were on the front of a tenement facing Eleventh Avenue at the corner of Thirty-sixth Street. If tenements were the dominant feature of Hell's Kitchen, then fire escapes were the dominant feature of the tenements. There was one outside every living room window on all the upper floors.
That night it was sweltering hot. Summer had hit New York in late May and turned the asphalt streets of Hell's Kitchen into the devil's anvil. By noon the temperatures sailed into the mid-nineties, the humidity matched the rise, and the Hudson River, one block away, didn't help. The tar on the streets had stopped bubbling by six, but at midnight the mercury still hadn't led with an eight. Inside the apartment it was worse, and the only hope for relief was the one-foot journey from the oppressive interior to the fire escape outside. It held the promise of a slight temperature drop, the hope of a wayward breeze.
Stripped down to jockey shorts and a T-shirt, I sat against the brick wall, pulled my knees up to my chest, and peered over at the skinny kid who had just moved into our building-Sidney Butcher. He was wearing pajamas and a yarmulke, and he was sitting on a pillow with his legs crossed. The book was resting on his thighs, and while one hand steadied it, the other aimed the flashlight. Completely unnoticed, I studied him in the reflected glow of the corner streetlight. He was so thin that he looked like a stick figure. I figured he might weigh a hundred pounds and was probably no more than five-two or -three. His black curly hair flowed over his ears, and his skin was very pale. In profile, his head seemed too large for his body and his slightly curved nose seemed too large for his face. It wasn't an unattractive face, but it was dramatically different from the swarthy Sicilian faces that dominated our building and the rest of the neighborhood. I would soon learn that he had just turned sixteen, had been sick most of his life, and was almost totally self-educated.
My curiosity finally got the better of me, and I said, "Hi."
Sidney was startled. He flinched and his head popped up. He stared straight ahead for several seconds-and then his head slowly swiveled toward me, his eyes focusing. They looked round and owlish behind the glasses, and he seemed puzzled. He finally managed to stammer, "Uhh ... h-hi ..." It was a thin voice, almost a whisper.
"So ... what're you readin'?" I asked.
Sidney hesitated, then glanced down at the book and back up to me as if it should be obvious. "A book," he said.
"I can see that ....," I responded, then added, "You do this a lot-read in the dark?"
Sidney answered with a negative head shake and held out the flashlight. He seemed to be suggesting that since he had a flashlight, he wasn't actually reading in the dark. I decided not to pursue the technicality and indicated the book. "What's it about?"
That stopped me cold. The Odyssey, I'd heard of The Odyssey ... Homer, but I never knew anybody who actually wanted to read it ... and certainly not in the dark with a flashlight. I cocked my head and said, "You're shittin' me ..."
Sidney responded with a pained expression and shook his head. "Uhuh," he said. He sounded upset-like I didn't believe him. I thought I'd hurt the kid's feelings, so I stuck my hand through the steel grating and said, "Vinny ... Vinny Vesta."
Sidney stared at my hand like he'd never seen one, then looked back up at me and shook it. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly and he said, "Sidney. Sidney Butcher."
Full on, I thought his face had a cherubic quality, which even then struck me as ridiculous, since everyone knows there's no such thing as a skinny cherub. Nonetheless, to me it seemed angelic. I smiled back and said, "Right. Well ... nice to meet you."
"Me too," answered Sidney. His smile got wider, his grip tightened, and he pumped my hand a few times. There was something about the way he did it that gave me the feeling this kid was different-very different-and that it had nothing to do with the way he looked. My thought was interrupted by a woman's voice that came from inside Sidney's apartment. It had a warm, lightly Eastern European accent. "Sidney, who are you talking?"
"The boy next door," he answered.
"Talk tomorrow," she called out. "It's late."
"Okay, Mom," he responded over his shoulder, and looked back at me. "See you tomorrow?" he asked hopefully. It sounded more like a plea.
"Sure," I said automatically-not sure at all-and Sidney disappeared into his apartment. That was the way it started. That was the beginning. It was that simple.
I had just graduated from high school along with five other members of my street gang. We were known as the Icemen-five Sicilians, one black, and an Irishman. Five of us were eighteen; the sixth, who would be a senior in high school next fall, was seventeen; and the seventh didn't know how old he was since he had never had a birth certificate. I was their leader-not because we'd ever had an election, this was just the way it had always been. As we grew up together, I was always a bit taller and stronger than the others, and by the time I was sixteen I was a well-muscled six feet one and 188 pounds. I thought God must have loved me-I was blessed with my father's brawny body and his Sicilian features: dark complexion, black wavy hair, and an arrow-straight nose. My mother said I had a face that belonged on a Roman coin. She was prejudiced, but she may have been right-the girls liked me as much as I liked them.
Three of my gang's seven fathers were in the Mob, and a fourth was a perennial wannabe. The fifth and sixth were "civilians," and the seventh was a shell-shocked World War II vet. We had all grown up together and since our preteens had been doing what Mob kids and their friends do. We hit warehouses, stockyards, railroad terminals, the airport-anything that carried value and didn't move. Recently we had heard that LaGuardia's freight terminal was a prime target, so I put it on our list. It was the beginning of what I'd come to know as the Mafia Summer, but in the middle of June, all was quiet ...
In Mob history, however, "quiet" is a relative term. If there were no screaming headlines about gang wars, or blood in the streets as the result of spectacular assassinations, then it was "quiet." As far as the public was concerned, the monster was sleeping. It wasn't-it was resting.
At the time, there were five organized crime families in New York-Luciano, Mangano, Lucchese, Profaci, and Bonanno-each named after its leader. They in turn were responsible to a Commission, which was their board of directors, made up of the leaders of the families. By far the largest and most powerful was the Luciano family, but its founder, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, had been deported to Italy in 1945, and he left control of the family to Frank Costello, the Mob's "inside man." Costello owned half the judges, politicians, and cops in New York and rented the rest. Everyone knew he was a mobster, but it didn't matter. He was a celebrity, and New Yorkers love celebrities-famous or infamous.
The one exception was Vito Genovese, a very powerful caporegime (crew captain) in the same family who felt Luciano should have chosen him as capo (boss) of the family. Genovese was almost universally disliked, but he was extremely clever and a heavyweight earner for the family, generating millions for his crew, a percentage of which was kicked upstairs to Costello and Luciano. Not only was Genovese jealous of Costello's relationship with Luciano, he couldn't bear the fact that he was disliked as much as Costello was respected. He vowed vengeance, and he had been plotting to overthrow Costello for five years. It hadn't happened yet because Costello was too powerful and too well entrenched, but in May 1950 Genovese saw a chance to move while the attention of the five families, law enforcement, and the entire nation was focused elsewhere.
In May 1950, Senator Estes Kefauver formed the Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce and announced he would hold hearings in fourteen major U.S. cities. There was to be a vast difference, however, between previous hearings and those held by Kefauver. The Kefauver hearings would be broadcast on a new medium called "television." For the first time, the nation would become aware of a juggernaught called organized crime that was cutting across almost every facet of their daily lives. The Mob was petrified of the upcoming electronic attention and the consequences, and the Commission issued an edict: Violence that would draw even more unwanted attention to the Mob would not be tolerated. Unfortunately, not only would this fail to stop Genovese, he would use it to eliminate Frank Costello and take over the Luciano crime family. Even more unfortunate, his plan involved using my father-and me.
I was present for almost all of the events that took place that summer and found out about those I didn't witness shortly thereafter: My father's immediate crew ... my crew ... Frank Costello, the capo of the Luciano family ... spies and informers, a multitude of police reports, and, finally, "the civilians"-six nuns, a hooker, two doormen, a funeral director, two wives, and the mistress of one of the players-all had stories to tell about the maneuverings between my family and the rival Luciano family. Secret meetings were revealed. Private conversations reported. Sources divulged and motives uncovered. Although some would rather have left the details unknown, with help I prevailed. But even with all the information I garnered at the time, it would take several years before the real repercussions finally became clear: The leadership of the Mafia would change hands, and its future would be altered for the next quarter century.
But it all started with Sidney. Sidney's father was a tailor, and in an incredible twist of fate, at the end of May 1950, the Butchers, a Jewish family from Queens, moved into a Hell's Kitchen tenement directly across the hall from a Sicilian family in the Mob ... us. At the time we met on our side-by-side fire escapes, it was unimaginable that we would become friends and inconceivable that the friendship would make us closer than brothers. It was a bond that would change both our lives, the lives of every member of my gang, and the lives of family, enemies, and lovers.
Chapter TwoThat night I went to bed a bit bemused. Sydney was interesting, not like anyone I had ever met, but since we seemed to have absolutely nothing in common, I didn't figure I'd be seeing much of him in spite of our proximity. I was wrong. At eleven the next morning, I walked out of our tenement and Sidney was sitting at the top of the staircase.
It was a typical Saturday. Four kids were playing stoopball against the steps of the building next door, and a few young girls were skipping rope farther down the sidewalk. On the Thirty-sixth Street side of the building, another bunch of teenagers were playing stickball, our street version of baseball. We used a broomstick for a bat, and the ball was a very old, very bald tennis ball. The "diamond" was the narrow alley in the middle of the street, flanked by parked cars on either side. Home plate was a manhole cover. On that day, first base was the fender of a 1936 Dodge, second base was a burlap bag, and third base was a battered Studebaker of indeterminate vintage. As in baseball, there was a pitcher and a catcher, but there was no budding Allie Reynolds on the mound. Instead of throwing a fastball, curve, or knuckler, the pitcher had to bounce the ball in front of the plate and one-hop it to the batter. There was no umpire, so there were no called balls and strikes-but a swing and a miss was a strike, and three strikes made you history. The rest of the rules remained normal except that a ground-rule double was called when you "Tendered the ball." This meant you had bounced the tennis ball up over a tire and wedged it between the mud and metal on the underside of a fender. Usually it took some twisting and grunting for the fielder to get it the hell out of there-so while this was going on, you were held to a "ground-rule double" at the burlap bag. It made perfect sense to us, though to baseball purists we were probably considered both heretical and demented-but purists played on grass, and the closest suitable grass was in Central Park. It might as well have been in Poughkeepsie.
Sidney was totally engrossed in a noisy craps game being played at the bottom of the steps by three members of my crew: Dominick "Boychick" Delfina, Benny Veal, and Attillio "Stuff" Maserelli. Like me, they were all wearing chinos, T-shirts, and sneakers. At nine o'clock it was already ninety degrees, but Sidney was wearing a sweater over a long-sleeved, open-necked white shirt, well-pressed tan corduroy trousers, brown brogans, and his perennial yarmulke. If he had added a tie, he would be dressed for church, which, as it turned out, he was. He'd just returned from shul. His hand was resting on a stack of four books bound by a piece of clothesline. The shooters didn't notice me coming out of the building, but Sidney did. He looked up, timidly raised his hand, and said, "Hi."
I looked down, my eyes narrowing automatically, and said, "How're you doin' ..."
He seemed glad that I remembered him and said, "Fine," then added, "You?"
"Okay," I said, and took out a pack of Lucky Strikes. I shook out a cigarette and indicated the sweater. "Aren't you hot?" I asked.
Sidney shook his head. "Uh-uh. My doctor says I have thin blood."
"Must be pure water," I commented, and lit a cigarette. I inhaled deeply, then shot a pair of smoke plumes through my nostrils. I nudged his books with my toe and asked, "What's with all the books?"
Sidney picked up the stack and held it out. "They're from the library. I'm taking them back."
"Oh," I said. Trafficking in library books was a foreign concept to me. I looked back down at the craps game.
Benny had just rolled the dice, and the point was eight. "Eight! Eight, the point!" he exclaimed in an intentionally clipped street accent. He threw down a five-dollar bill and added, "An ol' Abe says yes!" As he shook the dice next to his ear, his ebony skin glowed with a light sheen of perspiration. Benny was black as a raven and faster than a finger snap. Boychick was convinced he could outrun a bullet.
Stuff immediately threw down a dollar and said, "A buck on the hard eight." Stuff Maserelli was five feet five and had hit 200 pounds by his fifteenth birthday. By his eighteenth, he was 240. He had a round, swarthy face, dark brown hair, and eyes to match. No neck, no waist, and strong as a sumo.
"Yer covered," said Boychick, and he turned to Benny. "And I got yer fin." He slammed a single on top of Stuff's dollar and another five on top of Benny's five. Boychick was my number two. He got the name Boychick from his mother's Jewish family when he was a toddler. The moniker stuck, but the last time he'd seen the inside of a synagogue was when he was four. Everyone who met him was startled by his hatchet face and narrow-set black eyes. He had a hair-trigger temper and a pair of deadly fists that were making a name for him as an up-and-coming 146-pound welterweight.
"Comin' out," howled Benny, and threw the dice.
Stuff yelled, "Lemme see a pair a fours, baby!"
"Bad bet," said Sidney.
I looked down at him and said, "Huh?"
"The hard eight. It's a bad bet," Sidney repeated with all the confidence of Arnie Rothstein, the world-class gambler who reportedly fixed the 1919 World Series.
I was stunned. If anyone in my crew had made that observation, it would have been an obvious comment (anyone but Stuff, who was a notoriously bad crapshooter), but an emaciated kid in a yarmulke who read The Odyssey? No way.
"You're right," I said, eyes narrowing again. "But how do you know?"
Sidney got up, grabbed the stack of books by the end of the clothesline, and shrugged as if it were no big deal. "Hoyle. It's a book about all the games. Cards, dice, chess ... I read it."
I shook my head in disbelief. "And you remember the odds in a crap game?"
"Uh-huh. It's really only math. Math is easy for me."
Excerpted from MAFIA SUMMER by E. DUKE VINCENT Copyright © 2005 by E. Duke Vincent. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
E. Duke Vincent grew up in New York and New Jersey. A TV writer and producer, he joined Aaron Spelling in 1977 at Spelling Television, where he is currently executive producer and vice chairman. His credits include the series Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Dynasty, Hotel, Vega$, Charmed, 7th Heaven, and Clubhouse. His TV movies include the Emmy Award-winning Day One and And the Band Played On.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I love this genre and read just about any mafia books I can find. This is by FAR the worst of any I have read. So stereotypical that it becomes a characature of the Italian mafia in every way. It is so Hokie that at times it's embarrassing. I wouldn't even recommend this to people I don't like. My advice, stick with Mario Puzo and Lorenzo Carcaterra. This is junk.
I WAS A FLY ON THE FIRE ESCAPE W/ THE 2 BOYS - VERY REALISTIC WRITING! MADE YOU STOP AND THINK HOW IMPORTANT FRIENDSHIPS ARE - HOW THEY CAN MAKE A PERSON REALIZE WHO THEY REALLY ARE! OPPOSITES ATTRACT - THAT'S A DEFINITE!
I found it to be a quick read and I didn't want to put the book down... That should say it all...
This is not a book only about hard and heartless boys and men. It's also about friendships. If you enjoy the mob, mixed in with obvious fiction, this will be an enjoyable book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll probably read it again.
I just grab this book out of the blue never did I imagine i would get so sucked into it. From the time i opened it and started to read it I was unable to put it back down. Not to many books hold my attention the way this one did.
E. Duke Vincent has written one of the top notch books of Mafia fiction! His accuracy of actual events blended in with fictional characters and the over all plot of the story flow like a river! It's a page turner that once you start, you'll be unable to stop reading, it grips you that strongly. Not many authors can pull off what Vincent has, so take a chance you will not regret it, this book is a keeper!
Excellent read, that will keep you at the edge of you seat.Story has it all,mob power,revenge,loyalty,love,friendship and deadly consequences
This book kept me interested from cover to cover. By mixing in fiction and factual characters Mr. Duke managed to write one of the most intriguing novels I have read in a long, long time. Similar stories may have been told before but Mr. Duke manged to tell it like no one else has.
this is one of the books so far this year that was hard for me to put down. i didnt think that i would like it that much nor what to expect next---this is how outstanding it is. i couldnt wait to find out what was going to happen next. it also has some history in it about the mafia that one would find quite interesting ---you just have to know fact from fiction.