Read an Excerpt
The Family Corleone
Grand Central Publishing ISBN: 9780446574624
Giuseppe Mariposa waited at the window with his hands on his hips and his eyes on the Empire State Building. To see the top of the building, the needlelike antenna piercing a pale blue sky, he leaned into the window frame and pressed his face against the glass. He had watched the building go up from the ground, and he liked to tell the boys how he’d been one of the last men to have dinner at the old Waldorf-Astoria, that magnificent hotel that once stood where the world’s tallest building now loomed. He stepped back from the window and brushed dust from his suit jacket.
Below him, on the street, a big man in work clothes sat atop a junk cart traveling lazily toward the corner. He carried a black derby riding on his knee as he jangled a set of worn leather reins over the flank of a swayback horse. Giuseppe watched the wagon roll by. When it turned the corner, he took his hat from the window ledge, held it to his heart, and looked at his reflection in a pane of glass. His hair was white now, but still thick and full, and he brushed it back with the palm of his hand. He adjusted the knot and straightened his tie where it had bunched up slightly as it disappeared into his vest. In a shadowy corner of the empty apartment behind him, Jake LaConti tried to speak, but all Giuseppe heard was a guttural mumbling. When he turned around, Tomasino came through the apartment door and lumbered into the room carrying a brown paper bag. His hair was unkempt as always, though Giuseppe had told him a hundred times to keep it combed—and he needed a shave, as always. Everything about Tomasino was messy. Giuseppe fixed him with a look of contempt that Tomasino, as usual, didn’t notice. His tie was loose, his shirt collar unbuttoned, and there was blood on his wrinkled jacket. Tufts of curly black hair stuck out from his open collar.
“He say anything?” Tomasino pulled a bottle of scotch out of the paper bag, unscrewed the cap, and took a swig.
Giuseppe looked at his wristwatch. It was eight thirty in the morning. “Does he look like he can say anything, Tommy?” Jake’s face was battered. His jaw dangled toward his chest.
Tomasino said, “I didn’t mean to break his jaw.”
“Give him a drink,” Giuseppe said. “See if that helps.”
Jake was sprawled out with his torso propped up against the wall and his legs twisted under him. Tommy had pulled him out of his hotel room at six in the morning, and he still had on the black-and-white-striped silk pajamas he had worn to bed the night before, only now the top two buttons had been ripped away to reveal the muscular chest of a man in his thirties, about half Giuseppe’s age. As Tommy knelt to Jake and lifted him slightly, positioning his head so that he could pour scotch down his throat, Giuseppe watched with interest and waited to see if the liquor would help. He had sent Tommy down to the car for the scotch after Jake had passed out. The kid coughed, sending a spattering of blood down his chest. He squinted through swollen eyes and said something that would have been impossible to make out had he not been saying the same three words over and over throughout the beating. “He’s my father,” he said, though it came out as ’E mah fad’.
“Yeah, we know.” Tommy looked to Giuseppe. “You got to give it to him,” he said. “The kid’s loyal.”
Giuseppe knelt beside Tomasino. “Jake,” he said. “Giacomo. I’ll find him anyway.” He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and used it to keep his hands from getting bloody as he turned the kid’s face to look at him. “Your old man,” he said, “Rosario’s day has come. There’s nothing you can do. Rosario, his day is over. You understand me, Jake?”
“Sì,” Giacomo said, the single syllable coming out clearly.
“Good,” Giuseppe said. “Where is he? Where’s the son of a bitch hiding?”
Giacomo tried to move his right arm, which was broken, and groaned at the pain.
Tommy yelled, “Tell us where he is, Jake! What the hell’s wrong with you!”
Giacomo tried to open his eyes, as if straining to see who was yelling at him. “ ’E mah fad’,” he said.
“Che cazzo!” Giuseppe threw up his hands. He watched Jake and listened to his strained breathing. The shouts of children playing came up loud from the street and then faded. He looked to Tomasino before he exited the apartment. In the hall, he waited at the door until he heard the muffled report of a silencer, a sound like a hammer striking wood. When Tommy joined him, Giuseppe said, “Are you sure you finished him?” He put on his hat and fixed it the way he liked, with the brim down.
“What do you think, Joe?” Tommy asked. “I don’t know what I’m doing?” When Giuseppe didn’t answer, he rolled his eyes. “The top of his head’s gone. His brains are all over the floor.”
At the stairwell, atop the single flight of steps down to the street, Giuseppe stopped and said, “He wouldn’t betray his father. You gotta respect him for that.”
“He was tough,” Tommy said. “I still think you should’ve let me work on his teeth. I’m telling you, ain’t nobody won’t talk after a little of that.”
Giuseppe shrugged, admitting Tommy might have been right. “There’s still the other son,” he said. “We making any progress on that?”
“Not yet,” Tommy said. “Could be he’s hiding out with Rosario.”
Giuseppe considered Rosario’s other son for a heartbeat before his thoughts shifted back to Jake LaConti and how the kid couldn’t be beaten into betraying his father. “You know what?” he said to Tomasino. “Call the mother and tell her where to find him.” He paused, thinking, and added, “They’ll get a good undertaker, they’ll fix him up nice, they can have a big funeral.”
Tommy said, “I don’t know about fixing him up, Joe.”
“What’s the name of the undertaker did such a good job on O’Banion?” Giuseppe asked.
“Yeah, I know the guy you mean.”
“Get him,” Giuseppe said, and he tapped Tommy on the chest. “I’ll take care of it myself, out of my own pocket. The family don’t have to know. Tell him to offer them his services for free, he’s a friend of Jake’s, and so on. We can do that, right?”
“Sure,” Tommy said. “That’s good of you, Joe.” He patted Giuseppe’s arm.
“All right,” Giuseppe said. “So that’s that,” and he started down the stairs, taking the steps two at a time, like a kid.
Sonny settled into the front seat of a truck and tilted the brim of his fedora down. It wasn’t his truck, but there was no one around to ask questions. At two in the morning this stretch of Eleventh Avenue was quiet except for an occasional drunk stumbling along the wide sidewalk. There’d be a beat cop along at some point, but Sonny figured he’d slink down in the seat, and even if the cop noticed him, which was unlikely, he’d peg him for some mug sleeping off a drunk on a Saturday night—which wouldn’t be all that far from the truth since he’d been drinking hard. But he wasn’t drunk. He was a big guy, already six feet tall at seventeen, brawny and big-shouldered, and he didn’t get drunk easily. He rolled down the side window and let a crisp fall breeze off the Hudson help keep him awake. He was tired, and as soon as he relaxed behind the wide circle of the truck’s steering wheel, sleep started to creep up on him.
An hour earlier he’d been at Juke’s Joint in Harlem with Cork and Nico. An hour before that he’d been at a speakeasy someplace in midtown, where Cork had taken him after they’d lost almost a hundred bucks between them playing poker with a bunch of Poles over in Greenpoint. They’d all laughed when Cork said he and Sonny should leave while they still had the shirts on their backs. Sonny’d laughed too, though a second earlier he was on the verge of calling the biggest Polack at the table a miserable son-of-a-bitch cheater. Cork had a way of reading Sonny, and he’d gotten him out of there before he did something stupid. By the time he wound up at Juke’s, if he wasn’t soused he was getting close to it. After a little dancing and some more drinking, he’d had enough for one night and was on his way home when a friend of Cork’s stopped him at the door and told him about Tom. He’d almost punched the kid before he caught himself and slipped him a few bucks instead. Kid gave him the address, and now he was slumped down in some worn-out truck that looked like it dated back to the Great War, watching shadows play over Kelly O’Rourke’s curtains.
Inside the apartment, Tom went about getting dressed while Kelly paced the room holding a sheet pinned to her breasts. The sheet looped under one breast and dragged along the floor beside her. She was a graceless girl with a dramatically beautiful face—flawless skin, red lips, and blue-green eyes framed by swirls of bright red hair—and there was something dramatic, too, in the way she moved about the room, as if she were acting in a scene from a movie and imagining Tom as Cary Grant or Randolph Scott.
“But why do you have to go?” she asked yet again. With her free hand she held her forehead, as if she were taking her own temperature. “It’s the middle of the night, Tom. Why do you want to be running out on a girl?”
Tom slipped into his undershirt. The bed he had just gotten out of was more a cot than a bed, and the floor around it was cluttered with magazines, mostly copies of the Saturday Evening Post, and Grand, and American Girl. At his feet, Gloria Swanson looked up at him alluringly from the cover of an old issue of The New Movie. “Doll,” he said.
“Don’t call me doll,” Kelly shot back. “Everybody calls me doll.” She leaned against the wall beside the window and let the sheet drop. She posed for him, cocking her hip slightly. “Why don’t you want to stay with me, Tom? You’re a man, aren’t you?”
Tom put on his shirt and began buttoning it while he stared at Kelly. There was something electric and anxious in her eyes that bordered on skittishness, as if she was expecting something startling to happen at any moment. “You might be the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“You’ve never been with a better looker than me?”
“Never been with a girl more beautiful than you,” Tom said. “Not at all.”
The anxiousness disappeared from Kelly’s eyes. “Spend the night with me, Tom,” she said. “Don’t go.”
Tom sat on the edge of Kelly’s bed, thought about it, and then put on his shoes.
Sonny watched the light from a cast-iron lamppost shine off the parallel lines of railroad tracks dividing the street. He let his hand rest on the eight ball screwed atop the truck’s stick shift and remembered sitting on the sidewalk as a kid and watching freight trains rumble down Eleventh, a New York City cop on horseback leading the way to keep drunks and little kids from getting run down. Once he’d seen a man in a fancy suit standing atop one of the freights. He’d waved and the man scowled and spit, as if the sight of Sonny disgusted him. When he asked his mother why the man had acted that way, she raised her hand and said, “Sta’zitt’! Some cafon’ spits on the sidewalk and you ask me? Madon’!” She walked away angrily, which was her typical response to most questions Sonny asked as a kid. It seemed to him then that her every sentence started with Sta’zitt’! or Va fa’ Napule! or Madon’! Inside the apartment, he was a pest, a nudge, or a scucc’, and so he spent all the time he could outside, running the streets with neighborhood kids.
Being in Hell’s Kitchen, looking across the avenue to a line of shops at street level and two or three floors of apartments above them, brought Sonny back to his childhood, to all the years his father got up each morning and drove downtown to Hester Street and his office at the warehouse, where he still worked—though, now, of course, now that Sonny was grown, it was all different, how he thought of his father and what his father did for a living. But back then his father was a businessman, the owner with Genco Abbandando of the Genco Pura Olive Oil business. Those days, when Sonny saw his father on the street, he charged at him, running up and taking his hand and jabbering about whatever was on his little kid’s mind. Sonny saw the way other men looked at his father and he was proud because he was a big shot who owned his own business and everyone—everyone—treated him with respect, so that Sonny, when he was still a boy, came to think of himself as a kind of prince. The big shot’s son. He was eleven years old before all that changed, or maybe shifted is a better word than changed, because he still thought of himself as a prince—though, now, of course, as a prince of a different sort.
Across the avenue, in Kelly O’Rourke’s apartment over a barbershop, behind the familiar black latticework of fire escapes, a figure brushed against the curtain, parting it slightly so that Sonny could see a strip of bright light and a white-pink flash of skin and a shock of red hair, and then it was as if he were in two places at once: Seventeen-year-old Sonny looked up to the curtained second-floor window of Kelly O’Rourke’s apartment, while simultaneously eleven-year-old Sonny was on a fire escape looking down through a window and into the back room of a beer joint by the piers. His memory of that night was vivid in places. It hadn’t been late, maybe nine thirty, ten o’clock at the latest. He’d just gotten into bed when he heard his father and mother exchange words. Not loud—Mama never raised her voice to Pop—and Sonny couldn’t make out the words, but a tone unmistakable to a kid, a tone that said his mother was upset or worried, and then the door opening and closing and the sound of Pop’s footsteps on the stairs. Back then there was no one posted at the front door, no one waiting in the big Packard or the black eight-cylinder Essex to take Pop wherever he wanted to go. That night Sonny watched from his window as his father went out the front door and down the front steps and headed toward Eleventh. Sonny was dressed and flying down the fire escape to the street by the time his father turned the corner and disappeared.
He was several blocks from his home before he bothered to ask himself what he was doing. If his father caught him he’d give him a good beating, and why not? He was out on the street when he was supposed to be in bed. The worry slowed him down and he almost turned around and headed back—but his curiosity got the better of him and he pulled the brim of his wool cap down almost to his nose and continued to follow his father, leaping in and out of shadows and keeping a full block between them. When they crossed over into the neighborhoods where the Irish kids lived, Sonny’s level of concern ticked up several notches. He wasn’t allowed to play in these neighborhoods, and he wouldn’t have even if he were allowed, because he knew Italian kids got beat up here, and he’d heard stories of kids who’d wandered into the Irish neighborhoods and disappeared for weeks before they turned up floating in the Hudson. A block ahead of him, his father walked quickly, his hands in his pockets and the collar of his jacket turned up against a cold wind blowing in off the river. Sonny followed until they were almost to the piers, and there he saw his father stop a moment in front of a brick building with a battered wood door. Sonny ducked into a storefront and waited. When the door opened and his father entered the building, the sound of laughter and men singing rushed out onto the street and then hushed when the door closed, though Sonny could still hear it, only muted.
With his father out of sight, Sonny crouched in a shadow and waited, but after only a second he was moving again, tearing across a cobblestone street and down a garbage-strewn alley. He couldn’t have told you precisely what he was thinking beyond that there might be a back entrance and maybe he’d see something there—and indeed when he came around behind the building he found a closed door with a curtained window beside it and yellowish light shining out to the alleyway. He couldn’t see anything through the window, so he climbed onto a heavy metal garbage pail on the other side of the alley and from there he leapt to the bottom rung of a fire escape ladder. A moment after that he was lying on his stomach and looking down through a space between the top of the window and a curtain into a brightly lit room, crowded with wooden crates and cardboard cartons, and his father was standing with his hands in his pockets and speaking calmly to a man who appeared to be tied to a straight-back chair. Sonny knew the man in the chair. He’d seen him around the neighborhood with his wife and kids. The man’s hands were out of sight behind the chair, where Sonny imagined they were tied. Around his waist and chest, clothesline cord dug into a rumpled yellow jacket. His lip bled and his head lolled and drooped as if he might be drunk or sleepy. In front of him, Sonny’s uncle Peter sat on a stack of wood crates and scowled while his uncle Sal stood with arms crossed, looking solemn. Uncle Sal looking solemn was nothing—that was the way he usually looked—but Uncle Peter scowling was something different. Sonny knew him all his life as a man with a ready smile and a funny story. He watched from his perch, fascinated now, finding his father and his uncles in the back room of a bar with a man from the neighborhood tied to a chair. He couldn’t imagine what was going on. He had no idea. Then his father put a hand on the man’s knee and knelt beside him, and the man spit in his face.
Vito Corleone took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face clean. Behind him, Peter Clemenza picked up a crowbar at his feet and said, “That’s it! That’s it for this bum!”
Vito held a hand up to Clemenza, instructing him to wait.
Clemenza’s face reddened. “Vito,” he said. “V’fancul’! You can’t do nothin’ with a thickheaded mick like this one.”
Vito looked at the bloodied man and then up to the back window, as if he knew Sonny was perched on the fire escape watching him—but he didn’t know. He didn’t even see the window and its shabby curtain. His thoughts were with the man who’d just spit in his face, and with Clemenza, who was watching him, and Tessio behind Clemenza. They were both watching him. The room was brightly lit by a bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, its beaded metal pull chain dangling over Clemenza’s head. Beyond the bolted wood door to the bar, men’s loud voices sang and laughed. Vito turned to the man and said, “You’re not being reasonable, Henry. I’ve had to ask Clemenza, as a favor to me, not to break your legs.”
Before Vito could say anything more, Henry interrupted. “I don’t owe you wops a thing,” he said. “You dago pricks.” Even drunk his words were clear and full of that musical lilt common to the Irish. “You can all go back to your beloved fucking Sicily,” he said, “and fuck your beloved fucking Sicilian mothers.”
Clemenza took a step back. He looked surprised more than angry.
Tessio said, “Vito, the son of a bitch is hopeless.”
Clemenza picked up the crowbar again, and again Vito raised his hand. This time Clemenza sputtered, and then, looking at the ceiling, issued a long string of curses in Italian. Vito waited until he was finished, and then waited longer until Clemenza finally looked at him. He held Clemenza’s gaze in silence before he turned back to Henry.
On the fire escape, Sonny pulled his hands close in to his chest and tightened his body against the cold. The wind had picked up and it was threatening to rain. The long, low howl of a boat horn floated off the river and over the streets. Sonny’s father was a man of medium stature, but powerfully built, with muscular arms and shoulders from his days working in the railroad yards. Sometimes he would sit on the edge of Sonny’s bed at night and tell him stories of the days when he loaded and unloaded freight from railroad cars. Only a madman would spit in his face. That was the best Sonny could do to reconcile something so outrageous: The man in the chair had to be crazy. Thinking that way made Sonny calmer. For a time he had been frightened because he didn’t know how to make sense of what he’d seen, but then he watched his father as once again he knelt to speak to the man, and in his posture he recognized the steady, reasonable manner that he employed when he was serious, when there was something important that Sonny was to understand. It made him feel better to think the man was crazy and his father was talking to him, trying to reason with him. He felt sure that at any moment the man would nod and his father would have him turned loose, and whatever it was that was wrong would be solved, since that was obviously why they had called his father in the first place, to fix something, to solve a problem. Everybody in the neighborhood knew his father solved problems. Everybody knew that about him. Sonny watched the scene playing out below him and waited for his father to make things right. Instead, the man began to struggle in his chair, his face enraged. He looked like an animal trying to break its restraints, and then he cocked his head and again he spit at Sonny’s father, the spit full of blood so that it looked like he somehow managed to do some damage, but it was his own blood. Sonny’d seen the bloody spit shoot out of the man’s mouth. He’d seen it splatter on his father’s face.
What happened next is the last of what Sonny remembered about that night. It was one of those memories, not unusual in childhood, that is strange and mysterious at the time but then gets cleared up with experience. At the time Sonny was perplexed. His father stood and wiped the spit from his face, and then he looked at the man before he turned his back on him and walked away, but only a few feet, to the back door, where he stood motionless while behind him Uncle Sal pulled, of all things, a pillowcase out of his jacket pocket. Uncle Sal was the tallest of the men, but he walked with a stoop, his long arms dangling at his sides as if he didn’t know what to do with them. A pillowcase. Sonny said the words out loud, in a whisper. Uncle Sal went behind the chair and pulled the pillowcase over the man’s head. Uncle Peter picked up the crowbar and swung it, and then whatever happened after that was a blur. A few things Sonny remembered clearly: Uncle Sal pulling a white pillowcase over the man’s head, Uncle Peter swinging the crowbar, the white pillowcase turning red, bright red, and his two uncles bent over the man in the chair, doing stuff, untying the cords. Beyond that, he couldn’t remember a thing. He must have gone home. He must have gotten back in his bed. He didn’t remember any of it, though, not a thing. Everything up to the pillowcase was pretty clear, and then after that it got fuzzy before the memory disappeared altogether.
For the longest time, Sonny didn’t know what he had witnessed. It took him years to put all the pieces together.
Across Eleventh Avenue the curtain fluttered over the barbershop, and then it was yanked open and Kelly O’Rourke, framed by the window, looked down over the avenue like a miracle—a quick shock of light on a young woman’s body surrounded by black fire escapes, dirty red brick walls, and dark windows.
Kelly looked off into the darkness and touched her stomach, as she had found herself doing unconsciously again and again for the past several weeks, trying to feel some flutter of the life she knew was rooting there. She ran her fingers over the still-tight skin and muscle and tried to settle her thinking, to pull together the stray thoughts careening everywhere. Her family, her brothers, they had already disowned her, except Sean maybe, so what did she care what they thought anymore? She had taken one of the blue pills at the club and it made her feel light and airy. It scattered her thoughts. In front of her there was only darkness and her own reflection in the glass. It was late and everyone was always leaving her alone all the time. She flattened her hand over her stomach, trying to feel something. Hard as she tried, she couldn’t pull her thoughts together, keep them still and in one place.
Tom stepped around Kelly and closed the curtains. “Come on, sweetheart,” he said. “What do you want to do that for?”
“Stand in front of the window like that.”
“Why? Worried somebody might see you here with me, Tom?” Kelly put a hand on her hip and then let it drop in a gesture of resignation. She continued pacing the room, her eyes on the floor one moment, on the walls the next. She seemed unaware of Tom, her thoughts elsewhere.
Tom said, “Kelly, listen. I just started college a few weeks ago, and if I don’t get back—”
“Oh, don’t whimper,” Kelly said. “For God’s sake.”
“I’m not whimpering,” Tom said. “I’m trying to explain.”
Kelly stopped pacing. “I know,” she said. “You’re a baby. I knew that when I picked you up. How old are you anyways? Eighteen? Nineteen?”
“Eighteen,” Tom said. “All I’m saying is that I have to get back to the dorms. If I’m not there in the morning, it’ll be noticed.”
Kelly tugged at her ear and stared at Tom. They were both quiet, watching each other. Tom wondered what Kelly was seeing. He’d been wondering about that ever since she’d sauntered over to his table at Juke’s Joint and asked him to dance in a voice so sexy it was as if she were asking him to sleep with her. He wondered it again when she invited him after a few dances and a single drink to take her home. They hadn’t talked about much. Tom told her he went to school at NYU. She told him she was currently unemployed and that she came from a big family but she wasn’t getting on with them. She wanted to be in the movies. She’d been wearing a long blue dress that hugged her body from her calves to her breasts, where the neckline was cut low and the white of her skin flared in contrast to the satiny fabric. Tom told her he didn’t have a car, that he was there with friends. She told him that wasn’t a problem, she had a car, and he didn’t bother to ask how an unemployed girl from a big family has a car of her own. He thought maybe it wasn’t her car, and then when she drove them down to Hell’s Kitchen, he didn’t tell her that he’d grown up a dozen blocks from where she parked on Eleventh. When he saw her place, he knew the car wasn’t hers, but he didn’t have time to ask questions before they were in bed and his thoughts were elsewhere. The events of the night had proceeded rapidly and in a way that was foreign to him, and now he was thinking hard as he watched her. Her manner seemed to be shifting by the second: first the seductress and then the vulnerable girl who didn’t want him to leave, and now a toughness was coming over her, something angry. As she watched him her jaw tightened, her lips pressed together. Something in Tom was shifting too. He was preparing himself for whatever she might say or do, preparing an argument, preparing a response.
“So what are you anyway?” Kelly said. She backed up to a counter beside a white porcelain sink. She lifted herself onto it and crossed her legs. “Some kind of Irish-Italian mutt?”
Tom found his sweater where it was hanging on the bed rail. He draped it over his back and tied the sleeves around his neck. “I’m German-Irish,” he said. “What makes you say Italian?”
Kelly found a pack of Wings in a cupboard behind her, opened it, and lit up. “Because I know who you are,” she said. She paused dramatically, as if she were acting. “You’re Tom Hagen. You’re Vito Corleone’s adopted son.” She took a long drag on her cigarette. Behind the veil of smoke, her eyes glittered with a hard-to-read mix of happiness and anger.
Tom looked around, noting carefully what he saw—which was nothing more than a cheap boardinghouse room, not even an apartment, with a sink and cupboards by the door on one end and a cot-size bed on the other. The floor was a mess of magazines and pop bottles, clothes and candy-bar wrappers, empty packs of Wings and Chesterfields. The clothes were far too expensive for the surroundings. In one corner he noticed a silk blouse that had to cost more than her rent. “I’m not adopted,” he said. “I grew up with the Corleones, but I was never adopted.”
“No difference,” Kelly said. “So what’s that make you? A mick or a wop, or some kind of mick-wop mix?”
Tom sat on the edge of the bed. They were having a conversation now. It felt businesslike. “So you picked me up because you know something about my family, is that right?”
“What did you think, kid? It was your looks?” Kelly flicked the ashes from her cigarette into the sink beside her. She ran the water to wash the ashes down the drain.
Tom asked, “Why would my family have anything to do with this?”
“With what?” she asked, the smile on her face genuine, as if she were finally enjoying herself.
“With me taking you back here and screwing you,” Tom said.
“You didn’t screw me, kid. I screwed you.” She paused, still grinning, watching him.
Tom kicked at a pack of Chesterfields. “Who smokes these?”
“You smoke Wings and Chesterfields?”
“Wings when I’m buying. Otherwise Chesterfields.” When Tom didn’t say anything right away, she added, “You’re getting warmer, though. Keep going.”
“Okay,” Tom said. “So who’s car did we drive here in? It’s not yours. You don’t own a car and still live in a place like this.”
“There you go, kid,” she said. “Now you’re asking the right questions.”
“And who buys you the classy threads?”
“Bingo!” Kelly said. “Now you got it. My boyfriend buys me the clothes. It’s his car.”
“You ought to tell him to put you up in a nicer place than this.” Tom looked around as if he were amazed at the tawdriness of the room.
“I know!” Kelly joined him in appraising the room, as if she shared his amazement. “You believe this rathole? This is where I’ve got to live!”
“You ought to talk to him,” Tom said, “this boyfriend of yours.”
Kelly didn’t seem to hear him. She was still looking over the room, as if seeing it for the first time. “He’s got to hate me, right,” she asked, “making me live in a place like this?”
“You ought to talk to him,” Tom repeated.
“Get out,” Kelly said. She hopped down from the counter and wrapped herself in a sheet. “Go on,” she said. “I’m tired of playing with you.”
Tom started for the door, where he had hung his cap on a hook.
“I hear your family’s worth millions,” Kelly said, while Tom still had his back to her. “Vito Corleone and his gang.”
Tom pulled his cap down tight on the back of his head and straightened it out. “What’s this about, Kelly? Why don’t you just tell me?”
Kelly waved her cigarette, motioning for him to go. “Go on, now,” she said. “Good-bye, Tom Hagen.”
Tom said good-bye politely, and then walked out, but before he’d taken more than a couple of steps down the corridor, the door flew open and Kelly was standing in the dark hallway, the sheet she had been wearing someplace in the room behind her. “You’re not such a tough guy,” she said, “you Corleones.”
Tom touched the brim of his cap, straightening it on his head. He watched Kelly where she stood brazenly just outside her door. He said, “I’m not sure I’m entirely representative of my family.”
“Huh,” Kelly said. She ran her fingers through the waves of her hair. She looked confused by Tom’s response before she disappeared into her apartment, failing to close the door fully behind her.
Tom pulled his cap down on his forehead and started for the stairs and the street.
Sonny was out of the truck and hustling across Eleventh as soon as Tom stepped out of the building. Tom reached behind him for the door, as if he were trying to duck back into the hallway, while Sonny bore down on him, put an arm around his shoulder, and yanked him onto the sidewalk, pulling him toward the corner. “Hey, idiota!” Sonny said. “Tell me one thing, okay, pal? Are you trying to get yourself killed, or are you just a stronz’? Do you know whose girl that is you just did the number on? Do you know where you are?” Sonny’s voice got louder with each question, and then he pushed Tom back into the alley. He cocked his fist and gritted his teeth to keep from knocking Tom into a wall. “You don’t have any idea the trouble you’re in, do you?” He leaned toward Tom as if he might at any moment descend on him. “What are you doing with some mick slut anyway?” He threw his hands up and turned a small, tight circle, his eyes to the heavens, as if he were calling to the gods. “Cazzo!” he shouted. “I oughta kick your ass down a goddamn sewer!”
“Sonny,” Tom said, “please calm down.” He straightened out his shirt and arranged the sweater draped over his back.
“Calm down?” Sonny said. “Let me ask again: Do you know whose girl you were just screwin’?”
“No, I don’t,” Tom said. “Whose girl was I just screwing?”
“You don’t know,” Sonny said.
“I don’t have any idea, Sonny. Why don’t you tell me?”
Sonny stared at Tom in wonder, and then, as often happened with him, his fury disappeared. He laughed. “She’s Luca Brasi’s twist, you idiot. You didn’t know!”
Tom said, “I had no idea. Who’s Luca Brasi?”
“Who’s Luca Brasi,” Sonny repeated. “You don’t want to know who Luca Brasi is. Luca’s a guy who’ll yank your arm off and beat you to death with the bloody stump for looking at him the wrong way. I know very tough guys who are scared to death of Luca Brasi. And you just did the number on his girl.”
Tom took this information in calmly, as if considering its implications. “Okay,” he said, “so now it’s your turn to answer a question. What the hell are you doing here?”
Sonny said, “Come here!” He wrapped up Tom in a smothering embrace and backed up to get a good look at his brother. “How was she?” He waved his hand. “Madon’! She’s a dish!”
Tom stepped around Sonny. On the street a sleek roan horse pulled a Pechter Bakery wagon beside the railroad tracks, one of the spokes on the wagon’s rear wheel cracked and broken. A fat man at the reins cast a bored glance at Tom, and Tom tipped his cap to him before he turned to Sonny again. “And why are you dressed like you just spent the night with Dutch Schultz?” He fingered the lapels on Sonny’s double-breasted suit and patted the rich fabric of the vest. “How’s a kid works in a garage own a suit like this?”
“Hey,” Sonny said. “I’m doing the asking.” He put his arm around Tom’s shoulder again and directed him out to the street. “Serious, Tommy,” he said. “Do you have any idea the kind of trouble you could be in?”
Tom said, “I didn’t know she was this Luca Brasi’s girlfriend. She didn’t tell me.” He gestured up the street. “Where are we going?” he asked. “Back to Tenth Avenue?”
Sonny said, “What are you doing hanging out at Juke’s Joint?”
“How’d you know I was at Juke’s Joint?”
“Because I was there after you.”
“Well, what are you doing hanging out at Juke’s Joint?”
“Shut up before I give you a smack!” Sonny squeezed Tom’s shoulder, letting him know he wasn’t really mad at him. “I’m not the one’s in college supposed to be hitting the books.”
“It’s Saturday night,” Tom said.
“Not anymore,” Sonny said. “It’s Sunday morning. Jesus,” he added, as if he’d just reminded himself how late it was, “I’m tired.”
Tom wrestled out from under Sonny’s arm. He took off his cap, straightened out his hair, and put the cap on again, pulling the brim low on his forehead. His thoughts went back to Kelly pacing through the tiny space of her room, dragging the sheet behind her as if she knew she should cover up but couldn’t be bothered. She’d been wearing a scent that he couldn’t describe. He squeezed his upper lip, which was something he did when he was thinking hard, and smelled her on his fingers. It was a complex odor, bodily and raw. He was stunned by everything that had happened. It was as if he were living someone else’s life. Someone more like Sonny. On Eleventh, a car rattled up behind a horse-drawn cart. It slowed down briefly as its driver cast a quick glance toward the sidewalk and then swerved around the cart and drove on. “Where are we going?” Tom asked. “It’s late for a stroll.”
“I got a car,” Sonny said.
“You’ve got a car?”
“It’s the garage’s. They let me use it.”
“Where the hell’s it parked?”
“Few more blocks.”
“Why’d you park way up here if you knew I was—”
“Che cazzo!” Sonny opened his arms in a gesture that suggested amazement at Tom’s ignorance. “Because this is Luca Brasi’s territory,” he said. “Luca Brasi and the O’Rourkes and a bunch of crazy micks.”
“So what’s that to you?” Tom asked. He stepped in front of Sonny. “What’s it to a kid works in a garage whose territory this is?”
Sonny shoved Tom out of his way. It was not a gentle shove, but he was smiling. “It’s dangerous around here,” he said. “I’m not as reckless as you.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he laughed, as if he had just surprised himself.
Tom said, “All right, look,” and he started walking up the block again. “I went to Juke’s Joint with some guys I know from the dorms. We were supposed to dance a little bit, have a couple of drinks, and head back. Then this doll asks me to dance, and next thing I know, I’m in bed with her. I didn’t know she was this Luca Brasi’s girlfriend. I swear.”
“Madon’!” Sonny pointed to a black Packard parked under a streetlamp. “That’s mine,” he said.
“You mean the garage’s.”
“Right,” Sonny said. “Get in and shut up.”
Inside the car, Tom threw his arms over the back of the bench seat and watched Sonny take off his fedora, place it on the seat beside him, and extract a key from his vest pocket. The long stick shift rising from the floorboards shook slightly as the car started. Sonny pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes from his jacket pocket, lit up, and then placed the cigarette in an ashtray built into the polished wood of the dashboard. A plume of smoke drifted into the windshield as Tom opened the glove box and found a box of Trojans. He said to Sonny, “They let you drive this on a Saturday night?”
Sonny pulled out onto the avenue without answering.
Tom was tired but wide-awake, and he guessed it would be a good while before he’d be doing any sleeping. Outside, the streets ticked by as Sonny headed downtown. Tom said, “You taking me back to the dorms?”
“My place,” Sonny said. “You can stay with me tonight.” He looked over at Tom. “You thought about this at all?” he said. “You got some idea what you’re going to do?”
“You mean if this Luca character finds out?”
“Yeah,” Sonny said. “That’s what I mean.”
Tom watched the streets hurry by. They were passing a line of tenements, the windows mostly dark above the glow of streetlamps. “How’s he going to find out?” he said, finally. “She won’t tell him.” Tom shook his head, as if dismissing the possibility that Luca could find out. “I think she’s a little crazy,” he said. “She was acting crazy all night.”
Sonny said, “You know this ain’t all about you, Tom. Luca finds out and comes after you, then Pop’s got to go after him. Then we got a war. And all ’cause you can’t keep your zipper closed.”
“Oh, please!” Tom shouted. “You’re lecturing me about keeping my zipper closed?”
Sonny knocked the cap off Tom’s head.
“She’s not going to tell him,” Tom said. “There won’t be any ramifications.”
“Ramifications,” Sonny mocked. “How do you know? How do you know she doesn’t want to make him jealous? Did you think about that? Maybe she’s trying to make him jealous.”
“That’s pretty crazy, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” Sonny said, “but you just said she was crazy. Plus she’s a dame and dames are all nuts. ’Specially the Irish. The whole bunch of them are lunatics.”
Tom hesitated, and then spoke as if he had settled the question. “I don’t think she’ll tell him,” he said. “If she does, I’ll have no choice but to go to Pop.”
“What’s the difference if Luca kills you or Pop kills you?”
Tom said, “What else can I do?” Then he added, the thought just occurring to him, “Maybe I should get a gun.”
“And what? Blow your foot off with it?”
“You got an idea?”
“I don’t,” Sonny said, grinning. “It’s been nice knowing you, though, Tom. You been a good brother to me.” He leaned back and filled the car with his laughing.
“You’re funny,” Tom said. “Look. I’m betting she won’t tell him.”
“Yeah,” Sonny said, taking pity on him. He knocked the ash off his cigarette, took a drag, and spoke as he exhaled. “And if she does,” he said, “Pop’ll figure out a way to fix it. You’ll be in the doghouse for a while, but he’s not lettin’ Luca kill you.” After another moment, he added, “Of course, her brothers…,” and then he laughed his big laugh again.
“You having a good time?” Tom said. “Hotshot?”
“Sorry,” Sonny said, “but this is rich. Mr. Perfect’s not so perfect. Mr. Good Boy’s got a little bad in him. I’m enjoying this,” he said, and he reached over to rough up Tom’s hair.
Tom pushed his hand away. “Mama’s worried about you,” he said. “She found a fifty-dollar bill in the pocket of a pair of pants you brought her to wash.”
Sonny slammed the heel of his hand into the steering wheel. “That’s where it went! She say anything to Pop?”
“No. Not yet. But she’s worried about you.”
“What did she do with the money?”
“Gave it to me.”
Sonny looked at Tom.
“Don’t worry,” Tom said. “I’ve got it.”
“So what’s Mama worried about? I’m workin’. Tell her I saved the money.”
“Come on, Sonny. Mama’s not stupid. This is a fifty-dollar bill we’re talking about.”
“So if she’s worried, why don’t she ask me?”
Tom fell back in his seat, as if he were tired of even trying to talk to Sonny. He opened his window all the way and let the wind blow across his face. “Mama don’t ask you,” he said, “the same way she don’t ask Pop why now we own a whole building in the Bronx, when we used to live the six of us on Tenth Avenue in a two-bedroom apartment. Same reasons why she don’t ask him how come everybody that lives in the building happens to work for him, or why there’s always two guys on the front stoop watching everybody who walks or drives by.”
Sonny yawned and ran his fingers over a tangle of dark, curly hair that spilled down over his forehead almost to his eyes. “Hey,” he said. “The olive oil business is dangerous.”
“Sonny,” Tom said. “What are you doing with a fifty-dollar bill in your pocket? What are you doing in a double-breasted, pin-striped suit looking like a gangster? And why,” he asked, moving quickly to shove his hand under Sonny’s suit jacket and up toward his shoulder, “are you carrying a gun?”
“Hey, Tom,” Sonny said, pushing his hand away. “Tell me something. You think Mama really believes that Pop’s in the olive oil business?”
Tom didn’t answer. He watched Sonny and waited.
“I got the bean shooter with me,” Sonny said, “because my brother might have been in trouble and might have needed somebody to get him out of it.”
“Where do you even get a gun?” Tom said. “What’s going on with you, Sonny? Pop’ll kill you if you’re doing what it looks like you’re doing. What’s wrong with you?”
“Answer my question,” Sonny said. “I’m serious. You think Mama really believes Pop’s in the business of selling olive oil?”
“Pop is in the business of selling olive oil. Why? What business do you think he’s in?”
Sonny glanced at Tom as if to say Don’t talk like an idiot.
Tom said, “I don’t know what Mama believes. All I know is she asked me to talk to you about the money.”
“So tell her I saved it up from working at the garage.”
“Are you still working at the garage?”
“Yeah,” Sonny said. “I’m working.”
“Jesus Christ, Sonny…” Tom rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. They were on Canal Street, the sidewalks on either side of them lined with empty vendor stands. Now everything was quiet, but in a few hours the street would be crowded with people in their Sunday finery out for a stroll on a fall afternoon. He said, “Sonny, listen to me. Mama spends her whole life worrying about Pop—but about her children, Sonny, she doesn’t have to worry. Are you hearing me, hotshot?” Tom raised his voice a little to make his point. “I’m in college. You’ve got a good job at the garage. Fredo, Michael, Connie, they’re still kids. Mama can sleep at night because she doesn’t have to worry about her children, the way she has to worry, every waking moment of her life, about Pop. Think, Sonny.” Tom held one of the lapels of Sonny’s jacket between his fingers. “How much you want to put Mama through? How much is this fancy-tailored suit worth to you?”
Sonny pulled onto the sidewalk in front of a garage. He looked sleepy and bored. “We’re here,” he said. “Go open the door for me, will you, pal?”
“That’s it?” Tom said. “That’s all you got to say?”
Sonny laid his head atop the bench seat and closed his eyes. “Jeez, I’m tired.”
“You’re tired,” Tom repeated.
“Really,” Sonny said. “I’ve been up since forever.”
Tom watched Sonny and waited, until he realized, after a minute, that Sonny was falling asleep. “Mammalucc’!” he said. He gently grabbed a hunk of his brother’s hair and shook him.
“What is it?” Sonny asked without opening his eyes. “Did you get the garage yet?”
“You have a key for it?”
Sonny opened the glove box, pulled out a key, and handed it to Tom. He pointed to the car door.
“You’re welcome,” Tom said. He stepped out onto the street. They were on Mott, down the block from Sonny’s apartment. He thought about asking Sonny why he was keeping the car in a garage a block away from his apartment when he could just as easily park on the street outside his front door. He thought about it, decided against it, and went to open the garage.
Sonny knocked once, opened the front door, and didn’t manage to get two steps into the chaos before Connie, screaming his name, leapt into his arms. Her bright yellow dress was scuffed and darkened where she must have gone down hard on her knees. Strands of silky dark hair, freed from the constraints of two bright-red bow-tie barrettes, whipped over her face. Behind Sonny, Tom closed the front door on an autumn breeze that picked up leaves and garbage off Arthur Avenue and swept them down Hughes and past the front steps of the Corleone home, where Fat Bobby Altieri and Johnny LaSala, a couple of ex-boxers from Brooklyn, stood atop the stoop smoking cigarettes and talking about the Giants. Connie wrapped her little girl’s skinny arms around Sonny’s neck and planted a loud, wet kiss on his cheek. Michael jumped up from the game of checkers he was playing with Paulie Gatto, and Fredo came tearing in from the kitchen, and then everyone in the apartment—and there was a crowd this Sunday afternoon—seemed all at once to recognize Sonny and Tom’s arrival as a roar of loud greetings was shouted through the rooms.
Upstairs, in a study at the head of a flight of wooden steps, Genco Abbandando rose from his seat in a tufted leather chair and closed the door. “Looks like Sonny and Tommy just showed up,” he said. Since anyone who wasn’t deaf would have heard both the boys’ names called out a dozen times, the announcement was unnecessary. Vito, in a straight-backed chair beside his desk, his black hair slicked back, tapped his fingers on his knees and said, “Let’s move this along. I want to see the boys.”
“Like I was sayin’,” Clemenza continued, “Mariposa’s gonna bust a blood vessel.” He took a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket and blew his nose. “I got a little cold,” he said, waving the handkerchief at Vito as if offering proof. Clemenza was a heavy man with a round face and a rapidly retreating hairline. His stout body filled the leather chair beside Genco’s. Between them was a table with a bottle of anisette and two glasses.
Tessio, the fourth man in the room, was standing in front of a window seat that looked out across Hughes Avenue. “Emilio sent one of his boys to see me,” he said.
Clemenza said, “Me too.”
Vito looked surprised. “Emilio Barzini thinks we’re hijacking his whiskey?”
“No,” Genco said. “Emilio’s smarter than that. Mariposa thinks we’re ’jackin’ his whiskey, and Emilio thinks maybe we might know who is.”
Vito ran the backs of his fingers along his jaw. “How does a man so stupid,” he said, meaning Giuseppe Mariposa, “rise to such heights?”
“He’s got Emilio workin’ for him,” Tessio said. “That helps.”
Clemenza added, “He’s got the Barzini brothers, the Rosato brothers, Tomasino Cinquemani, Frankie Pentangeli—Madon’! His capos…” Clemenza waved his fingers, meaning Mariposa’s capos were tough guys.
Vito reached for the glass of yellow Strega on his desk. He took a sip and put the glass down. “This man,” he said, “he’s friends with the Chicago Outfit. He has the Tattaglia family in his pocket. He’s got politicians and business leaders behind him…” Vito opened his hands to his friends. “Why would I make such a man my enemy by stealing a few dollars from him?”
Tessio added, “He’s personal friends with Capone. They go way back.”
Clemenza said, “Frank Nitti’s running Chicago now.”
“Nitti thinks he’s running Chicago,” Genco said. “Ricca’s the one’s calling the shots since Capone’s in the big house.”
Vito sighed loudly and the three men in front of him were instantly quiet. At forty-one Vito still retained much of his youth: his dark hair and muscular chest and arms, his olive skin that remained unmarred by lines and wrinkles. Though roughly the same age as Clemenza and Genco, Vito looked younger than both—and much younger than Tessio, who had been born looking like an old man. “Genco,” he said. “Consigliere. Is it possible he’s this stupido? Or”—Vito punctuated his question with a shrug—“or is he up to something else?”
Genco considered the possibility. A slender man with a nose like a beak, he always looked at least a little nervous. He had a constant case of agita and was forever plopping two Alka-Seltzer tablets into a glass of water and drinking it down like a whiskey shooter. “Giuseppe’s not too stupid he can’t read the writing on the wall,” he said. “He knows Prohibition’s on the way out, and I think this thing with LaConti, I think it’s about setting himself up to be the one calling the shots when the Volstead Act’s repealed. But we got to keep in mind, the business with LaConti’s not over—”
“LaConti’s already dead,” Clemenza interrupted. “He just don’t know it yet.”
Genco said, “He’s not dead yet. Rosario LaConti’s not a man to be underestimated.”
Tessio shook his head, as if he were deeply sorry about what he had to say. “He’s good as dead.” He pulled a pack of cigarettes from the inside pocket of his jacket. “Most of his men have already gone over to Mariposa.”
“LaConti’s not dead till he’s dead!” Genco barked. “And if that happens, look out! Once Prohibition’s done, we’ll all be under Joe’s thumb. He’ll be calling the shots, carving up what’s left of the pie so that he’s sure to get the biggest piece. Mariposa’s will be the strongest of the families, anywhere—New York, wherever.”
“ ’Cept Sicily,” Clemenza said.
Genco ignored him. “But, like I say, LaConti’s not dead yet—and until Joe takes care of him, that’s got to be his first concern.” Genco pointed at Tessio. “He thinks you’re hijackin’ his shipments, or you are,” he said to Clemenza, “or we are,” he said to Vito. “He’s not looking to start something with us, though. Not at least till he’s through with LaConti. But he wants this stealing over with.”
Vito opened a desk drawer, took out a box of De Nobili cigars, and unwrapped one. To Clemenza he said, “You agree with Genco?”
Clemenza folded his hands over his belly. “Mariposa’s got no respect for us.”
“He’s got no respect for nobody,” Tessio said.
“To Joe, we’re a bunch of finocch’s.” Clemenza wiggled uncomfortably in his chair and his face flushed slightly. “We’re like the Irish hoods he’s been puttin’ out of business—small-time nobodies. I don’t think he cares if he starts something with us. He’s got all the button men and torpedoes he needs.”
“I don’t disagree,” Genco said, and he finished off his anisette. “Mariposa’s stupid. He has no respect. With all of this, I agree. But his capos are not stupid. They’ll see to it he takes care of the LaConti business first. Until that’s over, these hijackings are small change, nothing more.”
Vito lit his cigar and turned to Tessio. Downstairs, one of the women shouted something in Italian and one of the men shouted back, and then the house was filled with laughter.
Tessio stubbed out his cigarette in a black ashtray beside him on the window seat. “Joe don’t know who’s ’jackin’ his shipments. He’s shakin’ his fist at us, and then he’s gonna wait and see what happens.”
Genco, on the edge of shouting, said, “Vito. He’s sending us a message: If we’re stealing from him, we’d better stop. If we’re not, we’d better find out who is and put an end to it—for the sake of our own health. His capos know we’re not stupid enough to steal a few dollars, but they figure they concentrate on the business with LaConti and they get us to do this little bit of dirty work for them and take care of this problem. That way they don’t have to be bothered—and you can bet it’s the Barzinis who figured out to play it this way.” He found a cigar in his coat pocket and tore the wrapping off it. “Vito,” he said. “Listen to your consigliere.”
Vito was quiet, allowing Genco time to calm down. “So now we’re working for Jumpin’ Joe Mariposa.” He shrugged. “How is it,” he said to all three of them, “that these thieves remain unknown? They’ve got to be selling this whiskey to someone, no?”
“They’re selling it to Luca Brasi,” Clemenza said, “and he’s selling to speakeasies in Harlem.”
“So why doesn’t Joe find out what he wants to know from this Luca Brasi?”
Clemenza and Tessio looked at each other, as if hoping the other would speak first. When neither did, Genco spoke up. “Luca Brasi’s a beast. He’s huge, strong as ten men, and crazy. Mariposa’s scared of him. Everybody’s scared of him.”
“Il diavolo!” Clemenza said. “Vinnie Suits in Brooklyn swears he saw Brasi take a bullet point-blank in the heart and get up and walk away like nothing happened.”
“A demon from hell,” Vito said, and smiled as if amused. “So how come this is the first I’m hearing of such a man?”
“He’s strictly small-time,” Genco said. “He’s got a gang of four, five boys. They pull heists and run a numbers bank they took over from the micks. He’s never shown any interest in expanding.”
“Where does he operate?” Vito asked.
“In the Irish neighborhoods around Tenth and Eleventh, and up in Harlem,” Tessio said.
“All right,” Vito said, and he nodded in a way that indicated the discussion was over. “I’ll see about this demone.”
“Vito,” Genco said. “Luca Brasi is not a man you reason with.”
Vito looked at Genco as if he were looking right through him.
Genco flopped back in his chair.
“Anything else?” Vito checked his wristwatch. “They’re waiting for us to start dinner.”
“I’m starving,” Clemenza said, “but I can’t stay. My wife’s got her family coming over. Madre ’Dio!” He slapped his forehead.
Genco laughed at this and even Vito couldn’t suppress a grin. Clemenza’s wife was as big as him and tougher. Her family was a famous bunch of shouters who loved to argue over everything from baseball to politics.
“One more thing,” Tessio said, “long as we’re talking about the Irish. I’m getting word that some of them might be trying to band together. I’m told there have been meetings between the O’Rourke brothers, the Donnellys, Pete Murray, and more. They’re unhappy about how they’ve been pushed out of their old businesses.”
Vito disregarded this with a toss of his head. “The only Irishmen we have to worry about now are cops and politicians. These people you’re talking about, they’re street fighters. They try to organize, they’ll wind up getting drunk and killing each other.”
“Still,” Tessio said. “They could present a problem.”
Vito looked to Genco.
Genco said to Tessio, “Keep an eye on them for us. You hear anything more…”
Vito lifted himself out of his chair and slapped his hands together, meaning the meeting was over. He stubbed out his cigar in a cut-glass ashtray, finished the last sip of his Strega, and followed Tessio out the door and down the stairs. His home was full of family and friends. In the living room at the bottom of the steps, Richie Gatto, Jimmy Mancini, and Al Hats were in the midst of a loud discussion about the Yankees and Ruth. “The Bambino!” Mancini yelled, before he saw Vito coming down the stairs. He stood, along with the other men. Al, a sharply dressed short guy in his midfifties, shouted to Tessio, “These cetriol’s are trying to tell me Bill Terry’s a better manager than McCarthy!”
“Memphis Bill!” Genco said.
Clemenza shouted back, “The Yanks are five games behind the Senators!”
Tessio said, “The Giants already got the pennant locked up.” His tone suggested he wasn’t happy about it, as a Brooklyn Dodgers diehard, but those were the facts.
“Pop,” Sonny said, “how are you?” and he made his way through the crowd to give Vito a hug.
Vito patted Sonny on the neck. “How are things at work?”
“Good!” Sonny pointed to an open doorway between the living room and dining room, where Tom had just emerged carrying Connie in his arms, Fredo and Michael at his side. “Look who I found,” he said, meaning Tom.
“Hey, Pop!” Tom said. He put Connie down on the sofa and went to Vito.
Vito embraced him and then held him by the shoulders. “What are you doing here instead of studying like you should be?”
Carmella came in from the kitchen carrying a big plate of antipasto, the rolled-up slices of capicol’ surrounding bright red tomatoes, black olives, and hunks of fresh cheese. “He needs some real food!” she yelled. “His brain’s shriveling up from that garbage they feed him! Mangia!” she said to Tom. She carried the plate to the table, which was actually two tables placed end to end, covered with a pair of red and green tablecloths.
Tessio and Clemenza excused themselves and then worked their way through a half dozen handshakes and hugs before leaving.
Vito put his hand on Tom’s back and directed him to the dining room, where the rest of the men and boys were pulling up seats around the table while the women went about setting the places and carrying out more trays of antipasto and bread, along with decanters of oil and vinegar. Jimmy Mancini’s wife, barely in her twenties, was in the kitchen with the rest of the women. They were preparing the simmering tomato sauce with meats and spices, and every few minutes her high, cackling laugh would punctuate the laughter of the older women as they told stories and talked about their families and neighbors. At the kitchen table behind them, Carmella joined in the conversation while she cut and folded lines of dough over hunks of ricotta before sealing the edges with the tines of a fork. She had gotten up early to mix and beat the dough, and soon she would drop the ravioli into a big vat of boiling water. Beside her at the table, one of Carmella’s neighbors, Anita Columbo, worked quietly preparing the braciol’, while Anita’s granddaughter Sandra, a raven-haired sixteen-year-old only recently arrived from Sicily, arranged browned potato croquettes on a bright-blue serving dish. Sandra, like her grandmother, was quiet, though she arrived from the old country speaking flawless English, which she’d learned from her parents, who had been raised by Anita in the Bronx.
On the living room rug, Connie played with Lucy Mancini, who was the same age as Connie and already twice her weight, though only maybe an inch taller. They sat in a corner quietly playing a game that involved dolls and teacups. Michael Corleone, thirteen and in eighth grade, had everyone’s attention at the dining room table. He wore a plain white shirt with a band collar, and he sat at the table with his hands folded in front of him. He had just reported to all present that he had a “massive” project due at the end of the year for his American history class, and he “was considering” writing a report on the five branches of the armed services: the army, the marine corps, the navy, the air force, and the coast guard. Fredo Corleone, who was sixteen months older than Michael and a year ahead of him in school, shouted, “Hey, stupido! Since when is the coast guard part of the armed services?”
Michael glanced at his brother. “Since always,” he said, and then looked to Vito.
“Dope!” Fredo yelled. He gestured with one hand and with the other grasped the metal clip on one of his suspenders. “The coast guard’s not part of the real military.”
“That’s funny, Fredo.” Michael leaned back and then turned his gaze fully to his brother. “I guess the pamphlet I got from the recruitment office is mistaken.”
When the table broke into laughter, Fredo yelled to his father, “Hey, Pop! The coast guard’s not part of the armed services! Right?”
Vito, at the head of the table, poured himself a glass of red wine from a plain gallon jug beside his plate. The Volstead Act was still in effect, but there wasn’t an Italian family in the Bronx that didn’t serve wine with the Sunday meal. When he finished with his glass, he poured some for Sonny, who was seated closest to him on his left. On his right was Carmella’s empty chair.
Tom answered for Vito by putting his arm around Fredo and saying “Mikey’s right. It’s just that the coast guard doesn’t get mixed up in the big fights like the other branches.”
“See,” Fredo said to Michael.
“Anyway,” Michael said to the table, “I’m probably going to do it on Congress.”
Vito gestured to Michael and said, “Maybe one day you’ll be in Congress yourself.”
Michael smiled at that while Fredo muttered something under his breath, and then Carmella and the women joined them at the table, bringing with them two big serving bowls of ravioli smothered in tomato sauce, along with plates of meat and vegetables. Excited talk erupted around the table at the sight of the food and then turned into loud banter as the women went about ladling portions onto plates. When the dishes were all heaped with food, Vito raised his glass and said “Salute!” to which everyone responded in kind before digging into the Sunday meal.
Vito, as was typical for him, talked little during the meal. All around him his family and friends chattered while he ate slowly, taking his time to savor the sauce and the pasta, the meatballs and braciol’, to sip the hearty red wine that had come all the way from the old country to grace his Sunday table. He didn’t like the way others at the table, especially Sonny, wolfed down their food while concentrating, it seemed to Vito at least, more on the conversation than on the meal. It annoyed him, but he kept his annoyance hidden behind a mask of quiet interest. He knew he was the odd one. He liked to do one thing at a time and to pay attention. He was in many ways different from the men and women who had raised him and among whom he lived. He recognized this. He was straightlaced about matters of sex, while his own mother and most of the women he knew loved to be rude and bawdy. Carmella understood Vito and was careful about what she said when he was in earshot—but once, walking by the kitchen when it was full of women, Vito heard Carmella make a vulgar remark about another woman’s sexual tastes and it bothered him for days after. Vito was reserved—and he lived among a people who were famous for the rawness of their emotions, at least among each other, among family and friends. He ate his meal slowly, and in between bites of food, he listened. He paid attention.
“Vito,” Carmella said, midway through the meal. She was trying to be reserved but was unable to contain a smile. “Maybe you have something you want to say to everybody?”
Vito touched his wife’s hand and looked across the table. The Gattos and Mancinis and Abbandandos watched him attentively, as did his own family, his boys, Sonny and Tom, Michael and Fredo. Even Connie, seated at the far end of the table next to her friend Lucy—even Connie watched him with anticipation.
“As long as we’re all together, my family and my friends,” Vito said, gesturing with his glass toward the Abbandandos, “this is a good time to let everyone know that I’ve purchased some land on Long Island—not too far away, in Long Beach—and I’m having houses built there for my own family, and for some of my closest friends and business associates.” He nodded toward the Abbandandos. “Genco here and his family will join us on Long Island. By this time next year, I hope we’ll all be moving to our new residences.”
Everyone was silent. Carmella and Allegra Abbandando were the only ones smiling, both of them having already seen the land and the plans for the houses. The others seemed unsure how to react.
Tom said, “Pop, you mean like a compound? All the houses together?”
“Sì! Esattamente!” Allegra said, and then was silent when Genco gave her a look.
“There are six lots,” Vito said, “and eventually we’ll build houses on all of them. For now, under construction, there are houses for us, the Abbandandos, Clemenza and Tessio, and another one for our associates, when we need them close by.”
“It’s got a wall around all of it,” Carmella said, “like a castle.”
“Like a fort?” Fredo asked.
“Sì,” Carmella said, and laughed.
Michael said, “What about school?”
Carmella said, “Don’t worry. You finish the year here.”
“Can we go see it?” Connie shouted. “When can we go see it?”
“Soon,” Vito said. “We’ll make a picnic. We’ll go out and spend the day.”
Anita Columbo said, “God has blessed you with good fortune. We will miss you, though.” She clasped her hands in front of her, as if in prayer. “The neighborhood will never be the same without the Corleones.”
“We will always be nearby for our friends,” Vito said. “This I promise to all of you.”
Sonny, who had been uncharacteristically quiet, beamed at Anita, offering her a bright smile. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Columbo,” he said. “You don’t think I’m going to let that beautiful granddaughter of yours get too far away from me, do you?”
Sonny’s boldness made everyone at the table erupt into laughter—except Sandra, Mrs. Columbo, and Vito.
When the laughter died down, Vito said to Mrs. Columbo, “Forgive my son, signora. He was born blessed by a good heart and cursed by a big mouth.” He punctuated his remark by slapping Sonny lightly on the back of the head.
Vito’s words and the slap brought more laughter to the table and a slight smile to Sandra’s lips—but did nothing to lighten the coldness of Mrs. Columbo’s expression.
Jimmy Mancini, a big muscular guy in his early thirties, raised his glass of wine. “To the Corleones,” he said. “May God bless and keep them. May their family prosper and flourish.” He lifted his glass higher, said, “Salute!” and drank heartily, as everyone at the table followed suit, shouting “Salute!” and drinking.
Sonny stretched out on his bed, hands folded under his neck, feet crossed at the ankles. Through the open bedroom door, he had a view of his kitchen and a clock on the wall over a claw-foot bathtub. Tom had called the apartment “spare,” and now that word rattled around in Sonny’s head as he waited for the minutes to tick away until midnight. The round clock face had the words “Smith & Day” at its center, in the same black print as the numbers. Once every minute, the long hand jumped and the short hand crept closer to the twelve. “Spare” meant not much furniture and not decorated much. That was about right. A cheap dresser that came with the place was the only other piece of furniture in the bedroom. The kitchen furniture consisted of two white chairs and a table with a single drawer under a white baked-enamel top. The tabletop was trimmed in red, and the drawer handle was red. “Spare”… He didn’t need anything more. His mother took care of his laundry, he bathed at home (which was how he thought of his parents’ apartment), and he never brought girls here, preferring to sleep with them at their places, or to do it quick and dirty in the back of the car.
He had five minutes yet before he could leave. In the bathroom, he looked himself over in the medicine cabinet mirror. He had on a dark shirt, black chinos, and black Nat Holman sneakers. It was a kind of uniform. He had decided all the guys should wear the same thing on a job. This way it would be harder to pick one out from the other. He didn’t like the sneakers. He thought they made them look even more like kids, which was the last thing they needed since the oldest of them was eighteen—but Cork thought they could run faster and be more sure-footed with sneakers, and so sneakers it was. Cork was five-seven and maybe 120 pounds, but there wasn’t anyone, including Sonny, who wanted to fight him. He was relentless and possessed of a powerhouse right that Sonny had personally witnessed knock a guy out cold. The mug was smart, too. He had boxes of books scattered all over his apartment. He’d always been that way, reading a lot, since they were kids together in elementary school.
Sonny took a dark blue jacket from a hook on the front door. He slipped into it, fished a wool cap out of one pocket, and pulled it down over the thick tangle of his hair. He glanced back at the clock just as it ticked past midnight, and then jogged down two flights of stairs to Mott Street, where a three-quarter moon peeking out from a hole in the clouds lit up the cobblestone street and rows of apartment buildings with brick facades and black-iron fire escapes. The windows were all dark, and the sky was overcast, threatening rain. On the corner of Mott and Grand, a pool of light gathered under a lamppost. Sonny walked toward the light, and when he saw that he was alone on the street, he ducked into a maze of alleys and followed them across Mulberry to Baxter, where Cork was waiting behind the wheel of a black Nash with bug-eye headlights and wide running boards.
Cork drove off slowly as soon as Sonny slid into the front seat. “Sonny Corleone,” he said, pronouncing Sonny’s last name like a native Italian, having fun with it. “Day’s been dull as a dishrag. What about you?” He was dressed the same as Sonny, his hair straight and sandy blond, locks of it spilling out from the borders of his cap.
“Same thing,” Sonny said. “You nervous?”
“Little bit,” Cork said, “but we don’t need to announce that to the others, do we, now?”
“What do I look like?” Sonny shoved Cork and then pointed up the street, to the corner, where the Romeros, Vinnie and Angelo, were on the bottom steps of a rough stone stoop.
Cork pulled the car over and then took off again as soon as the boys jumped in the back. Vinnie and Angelo were twins, and Sonny had to look closely to figure out who was who. Vinnie wore his hair cut close to the scalp, which made him look tougher than Angelo, whose hair was always carefully combed and neatly parted. With their caps on, the only way Sonny could distinguish between them was the few strands of loose hair falling over Angelo’s forehead.
“Jaysus,” Cork said, glancing into the backseat. “I’ve known you two birds all my life, and I’ll be damned if I can tell you apart dressed like that.”
Vinnie said, “I’m the smart one,” and Angelo said, “I’m the good-looking one,” and then they both laughed. Vinnie said, “Did Nico get the choppers?”
“Yeah.” Sonny took his cap off, pressed his hair flat, and then struggled to get the cap over it and in place. “They cost us a lot of dough.”
“Worth it,” Vinnie said.
“Hey, you drove right past the alley!” Sonny had been looking into the backseat. He spun around and shoved Cork.
“Where?” Cork said. “And quit shoving, ya fuckin’ jelly bean.”
“Before the laundry,” Sonny said. He pointed to the plate-glass window of Chick’s Laundry. “What are you, blind?”
“Blind, your ass,” Cork said. “I was preoccupied.”
“Stugots…” Sonny shoved Cork again, making him laugh.
Cork put the Nash in reverse and backed it into the alley. He cut the engine and turned off the lights.
Angelo said, “Where are they?” just as a crooked alley door popped opened and Nico Angelopoulos stepped onto the littered pavement, between lines of overstuffed garbage pails, followed by Stevie Dwyer. Nico was a full inch shorter than Sonny, but still taller than the rest. He was thin, with a track runner’s wiry body. Stevie was short and bulky. They were both lugging black duffel bags with canvas straps slung over their shoulders. From the way the boys were moving, the bags looked heavy.
Nico squeezed into the front seat beween Cork and Sonny. “Wait till you see these things.”
Stevie had put his bag down on the floorboards and was in the process of opening it. “We’d better pray these tommy guns aren’t a heap of garbage.”
“A heap of garbage?” Cork said.
“We didn’t test-fire them. I told this dumb Greek—”
“Ah, shut it,” Nico said to Stevie. To Sonny he said, “What were we supposed to do, start throwing lead in my bedroom while the folks are downstairs listening to Arthur Godfrey?”
“That’d wake up the neighbors,” Vinnie said.
“They’d better not be rejects,” Stevie said. “Otherwise we might as well stick ’em up our arses.”
Nico pulled one of the choppers out of his duffel bag and handed it to Sonny, who held the tommy gun by the stock and then wrapped his fingers around the polished wood grip welded to the rifle barrel. The grip was carved with grooves for the fingers and the wood was solid and warm. The round black metal magazine at the center of the gat, an inch in front of the trigger guard, reminded Sonny of a film canister. Sonny said to Nico, “You got them from Vinnie Suits in Brooklyn?”
“Yeah, of course. Just like you said.” Nico looked surprised at the question.
Sonny faced Little Stevie. “Then they’re not no rejects,” he said. To Nico he said, “And my name never came up, right?”
“For Christ’s sake,” Nico said. “Did I suddenly become an idiot? No one mentioned your name or anything about you.”
“My name ever slips out,” Sonny said, “we’re all done for.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Cork said. He started the car and pulled out of the alley. “Put those things away or some flatfoot’ll be giving us trouble.”
Sonny put the gat back in the duffel bag. “How many magazines did we get?”
“What’s on it now and one extra for each,” he said.
Sonny said to the twins, “You palookas think you can handle these?”
Angelo said, “I know how to pull a trigger.”
Vinnie said, “Sure. Why not?”
“Let’s go over it.” Sonny nudged Cork. The Nash pulled onto the street and he leaned into the back. “Big thing is,” he said, “like before, fast and loud, so that everybody’s confused but us. We wait till the truck’s loaded. There’s one lead car and one trailer. Soon as the lead car passes, Cork pulls in front of the truck. Vinnie and Angelo, you get out throwing lead. Shoot high. We don’t want to kill anybody. Me and Nico go right for the cab and get the driver and whoever’s riding shotgun. Stevie’s got the back of the truck, in case somebody’s there.”
“But nobody’s gonna be there,” Stevie said, “right? You haven’t seen anybody riding in the back?”
“Alls that’s in the back is liquor,” Sonny said. “But you never know, so be ready.”
Stevie took a tommy gun from the duffel bag and tested the feel of it in his hands. “I’ll be ready,” he said. “Tell you the truth, I hope somebody’s back there.”
Cork said, “Put that away. And don’t go giving nobody lead poisoning if you don’t have to.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll shoot high,” Stevie said, grinning.
“Listen to Cork.” Sonny let his stare linger on Stevie, and then went on explaining the plan. “Once we’ve got the truck, we head out down the alley. Cork follows us, with Vinnie and Angelo still making a racket.” To the Romeros he said, “If they try to follow us, shoot for the tires and the engine block.” To everybody he said, “The whole thing should be over in a minute. In and out, and a whole lot of noise. Right?”
“Good,” the Romero brothers said.
“Remember,” Sonny said. “They don’t know what’s going on. We do. They’re the ones confused.”
Cork said, “Confused as a hungry baby in a room full of strippers.” When nobody laughed, he said, “Jaysus! Where’s your sense of humor!”
Stevie said, “Just drive, Corcoran.”
“Jaysus,” Cork said again, and then the car was quiet.
Sonny took a chopper from the duffel bag. He’d been dreaming about this night for a month, ever since he’d overheard Eddie Veltri and Fat Jimmy, two of Tessio’s guys, mention the operation in passing. They hadn’t said much, just enough for Sonny to figure out the shipments were whiskey from Canada, they were unloading at the Canarsie piers, and the whiskey was Giuseppe Mariposa’s. After that it was easy. He hung around the piers with Cork until they saw a couple of Hudson straight-eights parked on the docks alongside a long Ford pickup with a stake-bed covered by a blue tarp. A few minutes later, a pair of sleek speedboats came along, cutting cleanly through the water. They tied up at the dock and a half dozen men started pulling crates off the boats and loading them into the truck. In twenty minutes the boats were speeding away and the trucks were loaded. Coppers weren’t a problem. Mariposa had them in his pocket. That was a Tuesday night, and the next Tuesday was the same thing. He and Cork cased the operation one more time after that, and now they were ready. It wasn’t likely there’d be any surprises. Chances were no one would put up much of a fight. Who’d want to get himself killed over one lousy shipment of hooch?
When they reached the piers, Cork cut the lights and drove up the alley as planned. He inched the car along until they had a view of the docks. The pickup and the Hudsons were parked in the same places they’d been parked for the past three weeks. Sonny rolled his window down. A couple of sharp dressers leaned against the lead car’s front fender smoking and talking, a whitewall tire and chrome-capped wheel between them. Two more guys were in the Ford’s cab, smoking cigarettes with the windows open. They were wearing Windbreakers and wool caps and looked like a couple of stevedores. The driver had his hands on the wheel and his head back, a cap pulled down over his eyes. The one riding shotgun smoked a cigarette and looked out at the water.
Sonny said to Cork, “Looks like a couple of dockworkers driving the truck.”
Cork said, “Good for us.”
Nico said, “Easy pickin’s,” but with a touch of nervousness.
Little Stevie pretend-fired the chopper, whispering “Rat-a-tat-tat” and grinning. “I’m Baby Face Nelson,” he said.
“You mean Bonnie and Clyde,” Cork said. “You’re Bonnie.”
The Romero brothers laughed. Vinnie pointed to Angelo and said, “He’s Pretty Boy Floyd.”
Angelo said, “Who’s the ugliest gangster out there?”
Nico said, “Machine Gun Kelly.”
“That’s you,” Angelo said to his brother.
“Shaddup,” Cork said. “You hear that?”
A moment later, Sonny heard the hum of speedboat motors.
“There they are,” Cork said. “Time to go, boys.”
Sonny held his tommy gun by the grip, with his finger on the trigger guard, and shifted it around, trying to get the feel of the thing. “Che cazzo!” he said, and tossed it back in the duffel bag. He pulled a gun from his shoulder holster and pointed it toward the roof.
Cork said, “Good idea.” He took a pistol out of his jacket pocket and laid it on the seat beside him.
Nico said, “Me too.” He tossed his tommy gun onto the seat and pulled a .38 out of a shoulder holster. He gestured to the chopper. “That thing’s like carrying a kid around with you.”
Sonny looked back to the Romeros and said, “Don’t get any ideas. We need you with the choppers.”
“I like my Chicago typewriter, ” Stevie said. He pointed the muzzle out the car window and pretend-fired.
At the dock, four men got off the speedboat. The two guys with the three-piece suits and fedoras walked over and exchanged a few words, and then one of them took up a position at the edge of the dock. He watched as the speedboats were unloaded, while the second one oversaw the loading of the truck. Twenty minutes later, the stevedores were closing the Ford’s tailgate, latching it closed with a hook and chain, while the speedboats started their engines and roared off, out across Jamaica Bay.
“Here we go,” Cork said.
Sonny leaned into his door, one hand on the latch. His heart was doing a tap dance and he was sweating, despite a chilly wind coming off the water.
When the lead car started moving, followed by the Ford and the second Hudson, Cork revved the engine.
“ ’Nother second,” Sonny said to Cork. To the others he said, “Remember, fast and loud.”
On the dock, the headlights of the lead car splashed onto the black water as it maneuvered around the truck to the head of the convoy. Then everything happened, as Sonny had been directing all along, quickly and with a lot of noise. Cork brought the Nash roaring out in front of the truck as Vinnie, Angelo, and Stevie leapt from the car, choppers blazing. Things went from quiet one second to sounding like the Fourth of July the next. In an instant Sonny was on the Ford’s running board, yanking the door open and throwing the driver to the ground. By the time he got behind the wheel, Nico was alongside him yelling, “Go! Go! Go!” If anyone was shooting back, Sonny couldn’t tell. The driver he’d tossed out of the cab was running like a greyhound. He heard the clatter of gunfire coming from behind him, and he figured that was Little Stevie. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone dive into the water. In front of him, the Hudson’s back tires were shot out so that the long hood of the car pointed up slightly, its headlights shining into dark clouds. Angelo and Vinnie were twenty feet apart, firing in short rapid bursts. Each time they pulled the triggers, the choppers looked like they were alive and struggling to get loose. They danced a jig and the twins danced with them. Somehow, the spare tire next to the driver’s door on the lead Hudson had been blown off, and it was doing a wobbly dance on the dock, getting ready to die. The driver was nowhere to be seen and Sonny figured he was hunkered down under the dashboard. The thought of the driver huddled up on the floorboards made Sonny laugh out loud as he piloted the truck down the alley. Behind him, in his side mirror, he saw Vinnie and Angelo on the Nash’s running boards, holding on to the car with one hand and firing bursts high over the docks and out into the bay.
Sonny took the route they had planned, and in a few minutes he was driving along Rockaway Parkway in light traffic, followed by Cork—and that was it. The shooting part was over. Sonny said to Nico, “You see Stevie get in the truck?”
“Sure,” Nico said, “and I seen him shootin’ up the dock.”
“Looks like nobody got a scratch.”
“The way you planned it,” Nico said.
Sonny’s heart was still beating fast, but in his head he had switched over to counting up the money. The long bed of the pickup was stacked high with crates of Canadian hooch. He figured three thousand, give or take. Plus whatever they could get for the truck.
Nico, as if reading Sonny’s mind, said, “How much you think we’ll get?”
“I’m hoping five hundred apiece,” Sonny said. “Depends.”
Nico laughed and said, “I still got my share of the payroll heist. It’s stuffed in my mattress.”
“What’s the matter? ” Sonny said. “You can’t find dames to spend your money on?”
“I need one of those gold diggers,” Nico said. He laughed at himself and then was quiet again.
A lot of the girls said Nico looked like Tyrone Power. The last year of high school he had a big thing with Gloria Sullivan, but then her parents made her stop seeing him because they thought he was Italian. When she told them he was Greek, it didn’t make any difference. She still couldn’t see him. Since then, Nico’d gotten quiet around girls. Sonny said, “Let’s all go to Juke’s Joint tomorrow night and find ourselves some Janes to spend our money on.”
Nico smiled but didn’t say anything.
Sonny considered telling Nico that he still had most of his share of the payroll heist stuffed in his mattress too, which was the truth. The payroll job had netted more than seven grand, a little less than twelve hundred apiece—enough to scare them into laying low for a few months. Meanwhile, what the hell was Sonny supposed to spend it on? He’d already bought himself a car and a bunch of swell clothes, and he figured he still had a few thousand in cash lying around. Not that he ever counted it. Looking at the money gave him no pleasure. He stuffed it in his mattress and when he needed dough he took some out. With a big job like the payroll heist, he’d been dizzy for weeks with the planning, and the night of the job was like Christmas when he was little—but he didn’t like the big splash that followed. The next day it was on the front page of the New York American and the Mirror, and then everybody was talking about it for weeks. When word got around that it was Dutch Schultz’s gang, he was relieved. Sonny didn’t like to speculate on what would happen if Vito found out what he was doing. He thought about it sometimes, though—what he would say to his father. Come on, Pop, he might say. I know all about the business you’re in. He rehearsed these talks with his father all the time in his head. He’d say I’m all grown up, Pop! He’d say, I planned the Tidewater payroll heist, Pop! Give me a little credit! He could always come up with the things he’d say—but he could never come up with what his father might say in response. Instead, he saw his father looking at him the way he did when he was disappointed.
“That was really something,” Nico said. He’d been quiet, letting Sonny pilot the truck through the Bronx. “Did you see that guy dive off the pier? Christ!” he said, laughing. “He was swimming like Johnny Weissmuller!”
“Which one was that?” Sonny asked. They were on Park Avenue in the Bronx, a few blocks from where they were going.
“The guy riding shotgun,” Nico said. “You didn’t see him? He heard the guns, bang!—right off the pier into the water!” Nico doubled over, laughing.
“Did you see the Romeros?” Sonny asked. “They looked like they couldn’t hold on to those tommy guns. They looked like they were dancing with ’em.”
Nico nodded and then sighed when he quit laughing. “I bet they’re all bruised up from the kickback.”
Excerpted from The Family Corleone by Excerpted by permission.
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