Charley Partanna sits in his office, quietly rigging an election. As the chief executioner for the Prizzi family, he has taken time out of his busy schedule of cold-blooded murder to ensure that New York reelects its mayor, and that dirty money continues to flow his way. When he isn’t killing snitches or stealing votes, Partanna goes to night school, but tonight, his homework will have to wait. The Prizzis are going to war.
For Partanna, a mob war is nothing but an inconvenience. The streetwise underboss can make a hit completely undetected. But when he makes the mistake of falling in love with the don’s granddaughter, Partanna will see just what kind of trouble the Prizzi family can cause.
Prizzi’s Family is the 2nd book in the Prizzi series, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Richard Condon
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1986 Richard Condon
All rights reserved.
The St. Joseph's Laundry, business headquarters for the Prizzi family, was a large, low, triangular building that occupied a pie-cut block in central Flatbush. In October 1969 Vincent Prizzi had been Boss of the family for five months, since the day his father retired; for his father, this had meant transferring the title to Vincent and not going into the Laundry anymore. It didn't change anything else. Vincent was Boss, but Don Corrado was his boss.
Vincent was a serious man with a face like a clenched fist and an attitude of barely controlled violence, as if one of Señor Wences' hand puppets had developed antisocial tendencies. He had gout, high blood pressure, ulcers, and psoriasis because he was a resenter. He had been his father's sottocapo and vindicatore for twenty-four years; now he was the Boss. He resented that. Vincent conspired with his own ignorance. He was a perpetually baffled man who chewed on pieces of himself and then spat them out at the world.
Vincent had a two-window office with a big desk, clear of everything except two telephones and a neat bronze sign facing outward that said, THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING. A large table against the left wall held a collection of nine-inch-high religious statues surrounding a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus framed in bronze. His own saint, the saint with whom he shared a birthday, was St. Nympha, the virgin of Palermo, who underwent martyrdom in Sicily and whose relics are united with those of St. Respicius and St. Tryphon in Rome; their statues were assembled with those of St. Anthony and St. Gennaro on the tabletop. On the wall facing Vincent's desk there was a framed IBM slogan in Italian saying CREDERE in large black letters on silver appliquéd on an orange background. Three chairs, a blond leather sofa, and a blond carpet completed the decor.
He took a blood pressure pill, a diuretic, a gout pill, and the 325 grams of aspirin to cut down on the blood clots, then he waited for some kind of change in the way he was feeling. Nothing happened.
He yelled at the open door. "Get Charley Partanna in here." Each word came out sounding like a stroke of a crosscut saw. He had been practicing the way he spoke for forty-five years. It was the diction of all the young men in the environment when he was coming up, cultivated so that anyone would know instantly that they were hard guys.
Charley Partanna's office was two doors down the hall. It was the same size as Vincent's without the decoration: no signs, no carpet, no statues, no sofa. Charley was Vincent's underboss and enforcer. He was thirty years old. He had a quality of tentative detachment, as if he were not a part of whatever had been going on. When Charley was thirteen, Corrado Prizzi said he would grow up to be a contractor because nobody noticed when he was there; he could make a hit in Macy's window and no one would know he had done it.
Charley Partanna was a heavy-boned, lithe man with a face like a carousel horse: expressionless; long and narrow; with large chrome eyes pasted on either side of his nose. His eyebrows were like awnings. His voice worked at making sounds like a heavy steel sledge being pulled over ashes. He contracted his thoughts slowly but with earnest precision. He sat behind a desk whose drawers were empty except for the one that held a Swiss Army knife with small scissors that Charley used to cut his fingernails. He was a tidy man.
Seated in three chairs around the desk were the three capiregime of the Prizzi family, each in command of a cohort of about six hundred men; specialists or muscle; active or in reserve.
Tarquin "Little Abe" Garrone, the labor capo, was talking about new developments in the mayor's office. Garrone got his nickname thirty years ago from the chin whiskers he wore when he was first trying not to shave every day. He was short and meaty, like double. He spoke as if he had taught diction to Louis Armetta. He ran the construction unions in the city and just now he wanted to pull the plumbers, plasterers, and electrical workers from the Garden Grove development, a gigantic luxury condo going up on the site of a lot of low-cost housing that had been razed and from which the mayor's people had taken a bundle without sharing.
"The little fuck is walkin' wit' like a million nine, fahcrissake," Little Abe said.
The two other capi, Rocco Sestero and Sal Prizzi, the latter Vincent's son by his first marriage — Vincent was now a widower for the second time — both started to talk at the same time, outraged by the amount the mayor was stealing without sharing when the Plumber burst into the room, interrupting everybody. "The Boss wants you, Charley," he said.
"Tell him ten minutes."
"Not me. His gout is killing him."
Charley turned slowly in his chair to look at the Plumber. He hosed such fear all over him that the Plumber flinched. Rocco Sestero, the Plumber's capo, felt sorry for him.
"Keep your hat off when you're in the building," Charley said. The Plumber backed out of the doorway, closing the door carefully.
When he finished the meeting, Charley went to Vincent's office.
"You took your own fuckin' time," Vincent said.
"Elections are like six weeks away. They gotta be organized."
"So how does it look?"
"The mayor is a shoo-in."
"What about Mallon?"
"Not a chance."
"Good. Lissena me, Charley. Gennaro Fustino and Farts Esposito come into town yesterday. They wanna go to the Latino tonight. I work all day here and they expect me to stay up all night like some fuckin' Good Time Charley. My gout is killin' me. So you take them, okay? They're at the Palace."
"What about school?"
The reference to Charley's night school made Vincent's ulcers grind against each other, but Don Corrado was proud of Charley deciding to get a high school diploma after dropping out of school at fifteen, so Vincent couldn't do anything about it.
"The Latino is a nightclub, fahcrissake. It starts after. Anyway, the other people never miss a night at your school?"
"That's okay, Vincent. I'll handle it. Just so I don't miss school."CHAPTER 2
The Casino Latino was a big nightclub in New York owned by the Prizzis. It was in the straightest part of the East Sixties near Central Park, a neighborhood so unlike Brooklyn that Charley could only recognize the building at night.
Although it made a solid profit, the place existed primarily for the entertainment of out-of-town people who had come to New York to close various arrangements with the Prizzis. There was a bar and cocktail lounge on the ground floor. The nightclub was in the basement of the building. In the flowered centerpieces on each table were tiny microphones that could be switched on selectively to feed to the master tape machines in the subbasement. The Latino featured the top cabaret talent in the country, the biggest names, performers who had gotten themselves so deep into hock by gambling when they were playing Prizzi hotels and clubs in Vegas, Atlantic City, Kentucky, and Miami that they had to appear wherever the Prizzis sent them to work off what they owed. For three or four of them it had become their life's work.
The Casino Latino also had a great line of chorines and an absolutely sensational-looking sextet of showgirls. Angelo Partanna said, forget the headline acts and the movie stars in from L.A. for a couple of days to dress up the ringside; the place was all gorgeous flesh, the original draw.
There was no pressure on the girls to deliver for Prizzi customers. That would have been against family policy, and the girls knew it. From time to time, if people were important enough, Smadja, the headwaiter, would invite one or two of the girls to sit at a table with people between shows, but only the chorines; the showgirls were reserved for people who were being entertained by Prizzi executives. Even to get the chorines to a table took a lot of clout but, if the customers were heavy enough to be able to tell Smadja to bring out some girls, they had plenty of clout in the first place.
The girls knew — they were sure, there was no problem about it — that they didn't have to leave the joint with a customer, no matter who it was, even if they were at a table with Vincent Prizzi's party. But, on the other hand, if they were at a table with Vincent Prizzi, they usually thought it over and delivered.
Gennaro Fustino was the Boss of the New Orleans outfit. He was married to Don Corrado's baby sister, Birdie, and ran a territory from Louisiana, across Texas and Oklahoma, then westward across the southern rim of the country to the California border. His fleet of small planes out of Mexico delivered smack and watches into three dozen small American airports and dried-up lake basins. He was in partnership with the Prizzis in the international counterfeit watch operation and in sbuffo and boo, and was beginning to organize his part of the country on Corrado Prizzi's latest innovation: the recycled postage stamp franchise by which the cancellation marks were removed by a chemical the Prizzis provided from New York and the stamps could be resold at a forty-five percent discount of their face value. The two families collaborated on importing racehorses from England and Ireland for Gennaro's tracks in Louisiana and Arkansas.
Gennaro Fustino had industrialized the counterfeit watch dodge. The Prizzis had the watch movements made in Hong Kong and the cases and faces done in Italy, where they were assembled. They faked every great Swiss watch in the business and Gennaro merchandised them for between ten and thirty percent of what the real watches would cost, and still rolled up a $17,000,000-a-year business. "It proves the public are thieves in their heart," he said to Angelo Partanna after the first year with the watches.
"So what else is new?" Angelo said.
Natale "Farts" Esposito was Gennaro's caporegime. Natale had the abilitity to fart at any time: loud, medium, or soft. This talent made him a popular entertainer at Fustino parties. He and Gennaro were so close, Angelo Partanna said, that when Gennaro ate too much — which he always did even when he was on one of his diets — that it gave Natale Esposito gas.
Tonight Charley, Gennaro, and Natale met for dinner at the Latino. Gennaro decided he wanted to eat Chinese so the club had to send out to a Prizzi-owned Cantonese joint at 127th Street off Broadway. When the food arrived, it was reheated expertly and served elegantly. While they were waiting, Gennaro ate a baked Alaska.
After dinner Charley gave Smadja the nod and three showgirls were brought to the table. They were dressed in evening gowns, not show costumes, so as not to attract attention. Moving across the room to the table, they could not have called more attention if they had been dressed in suits of armor. They were gigantic up close, not like Arnold Schwarzenegger in drag, but instead very beautiful, very feminine, with an odd kind of grateful quality.
Two of the girls, both brunettes, simply were spectacularly beautiful. The one Smadja seated next to Charley was indescribably lovely. She was new at the Latino; a very beautiful head with a body that could have come out of an expensive mail-order catalog, Charley thought, if it had been ordinary merchandise like a statue or something. Her large, golden eyes had a sheen of willfulness in them. But it was willfulness on the playful side, Charley thought the minute he looked at her, but the realization was gone immediately. He didn't have time to analyze what he had seen but he had the distinct feeling for one quick flash that she was definitely some kind of a joker.
Charley was courtly but distant as the representative of the Prizzi family, even while he was deciding that she had to be the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in his life. She was big, an absolute continent of flesh, but after registering this as he stood to greet her, Charley wasn't conscious of it again, even though she never stooped to make herself seem shorter. She had the posture of a fleet admiral on a visit to the White House. She was so elegantly formed that he reasoned, in a convincing new flash, that this was the size people had been meant to be until life had shrunk them backward into midgets.
She was called Mardell La Tour, a very beautiful name, Charley thought.
The two other showgirls, seated with Gennaro and Natale, broke into wild laughter because Gennaro had persuaded Natale to do his thing, Charley explained to Miss La Tour.
"What's that?" Mardell asked Charley.
"He's a walking whoopee cushion," Charley said. "Ain't you new here?"
She shivered violently.
"What's the matter?" Charley said. "You in a draft?"
"Someone at Buckingham Palace — I won't say who — hits me with an icy radio beam when it becomes necessary. It's for my health." Mardell had decided on that line on the spur of the moment because it seemed likely to capture his attention. She achieved what was almost a caricature of British speech. She spoke very much like an English actor named Terry-Thomas.
"I started with the new show on Friday night."
"I have to wind up here about once a month," Charley said. "How come you talk funny?"
"Whatta you mean?"
"I come from Shaftesbury, England, by way of London and Paris." She pronounced it Shahfssbree.
"I worked at the Lido."
"No kidding? It's funny I never seen you. Here I mean. I never been to Paris or London, but I been here."
"As I said, I just started. Are you a gangster?" He stared at her. "That's a pretty old-fashioned word," he said slowly.
"How come you asked me that?"
"The girls told me we were expected to sit with gangsters."
"These girls said that?"
"No — somebody in the dressing room."
"Yeah? Well, lemme tell you something —"
"They said the club is owned by gangsters and that gangsters come here to meet other gangsters."
Charley stiffened. "Do we look like gangsters here at this table?"
"What would you base that on?"
"The flicks. Telly."
"Telly? The flicks? I happen to be a Brooklyn businessman. Them two over there happen to be New Orleans businessmen. We are Italian descent so we talk the way it sounds to you, and I happen to be from Brooklyn so that adds."
The stouter New Orleans businessman was being served a chef's salad that seemed to be garnished with pork chops. The other one tubaed out a long, basso fart as a measure of repartee. The two girls on either side of him shrieked with laughter.
"I'm so sorry," Mardell said to Charley as if she were apologizing for Natale. "I had no intention of offending you."
"Listen — you talk funny. Is that how they talk in Shahfssbree, England?"
"We're nearer Semley, actually."
"Anybody from Brooklyn thinks I talk natural. But because I think you talk funny doesn't mean I got a right to ask you if you are a hooker or something."
"I am not good at small talk. You see" — she seemed embarrassed — "my mind is always waiting for the next radio beam."
"It keeps me from catching leprosy."
"Forget it," he said. "Come on, I'll take you home."
"But I can't."
"I have another show to do."
"I'll straighten that out."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Partanna, but I can't do that."
"You off Sunday and Monday?"
"Could I take you to dinner Sunday?"
"I have to wash my hair and my smalls and finish a book on Sunday."
"A library book. It's due."
"How about Monday?"
She studied him. "I could do Monday. If we could lunch in my neighborhood."
"I'm at 148 West Twenty-third Street."
"Great. Even if you lived in Hackensack it would be okay."
He relaxed so suddenly that he almost slipped under the table. Natale did a whistling, high-pitched fart and the two other girls fell apart laughing. "How do you do that?" one of them asked, grasping his thigh, sexually excited to find herself seated next to a man with such a sense of humor.
"It depends on the amount of air I swallow," Natale said shyly. "The more air, the bigger the noise."
Excerpted from Prizzi's Family by Richard Condon. Copyright © 1986 Richard Condon. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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