For Anthony Cleri
Behind every great fortune there is a crime.
Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.
The judge, a formidably heavy-featured man, rolled up the sleeves of his black robe as if to physically chastise the two young men standing before the bench. His face was cold with majestic contempt. But there was something false in all this that Amerigo Bonasera sensed but did not yet understand.
“You acted like the worst kind of degenerates,” the judge said harshly. Yes, yes, thought Amerigo Bonasera. Animals. Animals. The two young men, glossy hair crew cut, scrubbed clean-cut faces composed into humble contrition, bowed their heads in submission.
The judge went on. “You acted like wild beasts in a jungle and you are fortunate you did not sexually molest that poor girl or I’d put you behind bars for twenty years.” The judge paused, his eyes beneath impressively thick brows flickered slyly toward the sallow-faced Amerigo Bonasera, then lowered to a stack of probation reports before him. He frowned and shrugged as if convinced against his own natural desire. He spoke again.
“But because of your youth, your clean records, because of your fine families, and because the law in its majesty does not seek vengeance, I hereby sentence you to three years’ confinement to the penitentiary. Sentence to be suspended.”
Only forty years of professional mourning kept the overwhelming frustration and hatred from showing on Amerigo Bonasera’s face. His beautiful young daughter was still in the hospital with her broken jaw wired together; and now these two animales went free? It had all been a farce. He watched the happy parents cluster around their darling sons. Oh, they were all happy now, they were smiling now.
The black bile, sourly bitter, rose in Bonasera’s throat, overflowed through tightly clenched teeth. He used his white linen pocket handkerchief and held it against his lips. He was standing so when the two young men strode freely up the aisle, confident and cool-eyed, smiling, not giving him so much as a glance. He let them pass without saying a word, pressing the fresh linen against his mouth.
The parents of the animales were coming by now, two men and two women his age but more American in their dress. They glanced at him, shamefaced, yet in their eyes was an odd, triumphant defiance.
Out of control, Bonasera leaned forward toward the aisle and shouted hoarsely, “You will weep as I have wept— I will make you weep as your children make me weep”— the linen at his eyes now. The defense attorneys bringing up the rear swept their clients forward in a tight little band, enveloping the two young men, who had started back down the aisle as if to protect their parents. A huge bailiff moved quickly to block the row in which Bonasera stood. But it was not necessary.
All his years in America, Amerigo Bonasera had trusted in law and order. And he had prospered thereby. Now, though his brain smoked with hatred, though wild visions of buying a gun and killing the two young men jangled the very bones of his skull, Bonasera turned to his still uncomprehending wife and explained to her, “They have made fools of us.” He paused and then made his decision, no longer fearing the cost. “For justice we must go on our knees to Don Corleone.”
* * *
In a garishly decorated Los Angeles hotel suite, Johnny Fontane was as jealously drunk as any ordinary husband. Sprawled on a red couch, he drank straight from the bottle of scotch in his hand, then washed the taste away by dunking his mouth in a crystal bucket of ice cubes and water. It was four in the morning and he was spinning drunken fantasies of murdering his trampy wife when she got home. If she ever did come home. It was too late to call his first wife and ask about the kids and he felt funny about calling any of his friends now that his career was plunging downhill. There had been a time when they would have been delighted, flattered by his calling them at four in the morning but now he bored them. He could even smile a little to himself as he thought that on the way up Johnny Fontane’s troubles had fascinated some of the greatest female stars in America.
Gulping at his bottle of scotch, he heard finally his wife’s key in the door, but he kept drinking until she walked into the room and stood before him. She was to him so very beautiful, the angelic face, soulful violet eyes, the delicately fragile but perfectly formed body. On the screen her beauty was magnified, spiritualized. A hundred million men all over the world were in love with the face of Margot Ashton. And paid to see it on the screen.
“Where the hell were you?” Johnny Fontane asked.
“Out fucking,” she said.
She had misjudged his drunkenness. He sprang over the cocktail table and grabbed her by the throat. But close up to that magical face, the lovely violet eyes, he lost his anger and became helpless again. She made the mistake of smiling mockingly, saw his fist draw back. She screamed, “Johnny, not in the face, I’m making a picture.”
She was laughing. He punched her in the stomach and she fell to the floor. He fell on top of her. He could smell her fragrant breath as she gasped for air. He punched her on the arms and on the thigh muscles of her silky tanned legs. He beat her as he had beaten snotty smaller kids long ago when he had been a tough teenager in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. A painful punishment that would leave no lasting disfigurement of loosened teeth or broken nose.
But he was not hitting her hard enough. He couldn’t. And she was giggling at him. Spread-eagled on the floor, her brocaded gown hitched up above her thighs, she taunted him between giggles. “Come on, stick it in. Stick it in, Johnny, that’s what you really want.”
Johnny Fontane got up. He hated the woman on the floor but her beauty was a magic shield. Margot rolled away, and in a dancer’s spring was on her feet facing him. She went into a childish mocking dance and chanted, “Johnny never hurt me, Johnny never hurt me.” Then almost sadly with grave beauty she said, “You poor silly bastard, giving me cramps like a kid. Ah, Johnny, you always will be a dumb romantic guinea, you even make love like a kid. You still think screwing is really like those dopey songs you used to sing.” She shook her head and said, “Poor Johnny. Goodbye, Johnny.” She walked into the bedroom and he heard her turn the key in the lock.
Johnny sat on the floor with his face in his hands. The sick, humiliating despair overwhelmed him. And then the gutter toughness that had helped him survive the jungle of Hollywood made him pick up the phone and call for a car to take him to the airport. There was one person who could save him. He would go back to New York. He would go back to the one man with the power, the wisdom he needed and a love he still trusted. His Godfather Corleone.
* * *
The baker, Nazorine, pudgy and crusty as his great Italian loaves, still dusty with flour, scowled at his wife, his nubile daughter, Katherine, and his baker’s helper, Enzo. Enzo had changed into his prisoner-of-war uniform with its green-lettered armband and was terrified that this scene would make him late reporting back to Governor’s Island. One of the many thousands of Italian Army prisoners paroled daily to work in the American economy, he lived in constant fear of that parole being revoked. And so the little comedy being played now was, for him, a serious business.
Nazorine asked fiercely, “Have you dishonored my family? Have you given my daughter a little package to remember you by now that the war is over and you know America will kick your ass back to your village full of shit in Sicily?”
Enzo, a very short, strongly built boy, put his hand over his heart and said almost in tears, yet cleverly, “Padrone, I swear by the Holy Virgin I have never taken advantage of your kindness. I love your daughter with all respect. I ask for her hand with all respect. I know I have no right, but if they send me back to Italy I can never come back to America. I will never be able to marry Katherine.”
Nazorine’s wife, Filomena, spoke to the point. “Stop all this foolishness,” she said to her pudgy husband. “You know what you must do. Keep Enzo here, send him to hide with our cousins in Long Island.”
Katherine was weeping. She was already plump, homely and sprouting a faint moustache. She would never get a husband as handsome as Enzo, never find another man who touched her body in secret places with such respectful love. “I’ll go and live in Italy,” she screamed at her father. “I’ll run away if you don’t keep Enzo here.”
Nazorine glanced at her shrewdly. She was a “hot number” this daughter of his. He had seen her brush her swelling buttocks against Enzo’s front when the baker’s helper squeezed behind her to fill the counter baskets with hot loaves from the oven. The young rascal’s hot loaf would be in her oven, Nazorine thought lewdly, if proper steps were not taken. Enzo must be kept in America and be made an American citizen. And there was only one man who could arrange such an affair. The Godfather. Don Corleone.
* * *
All of these people and many others received engraved invitations to the wedding of Miss Constanzia Corleone, to be celebrated on the last Saturday in August 1945. The father of the bride, Don Vito Corleone, never forgot his old friends and neighbors though he himself now lived in a huge house on Long Island. The reception would be held in that house and the festivities would go on all day. There was no doubt it would be a momentous occasion. The war with the Japanese had just ended so there would not be any nagging fear for their sons fighting in the Army to cloud these festivities. A wedding was just what people needed to show their joy.
And so on that Saturday morning the friends of Don Corleone streamed out of New York City to do him honor. They bore cream-colored envelopes stuffed with cash as bridal gifts, no checks. Inside each envelope a card established the identity of the giver and the measure of his respect for the Godfather. A respect truly earned.
Don Vito Corleone was a man to whom everybody came for help, and never were they disappointed. He made no empty promises, nor the craven excuse that his hands were tied by more powerful forces in the world than himself. It was not necessary that he be your friend, it was not even important that you had no means with which to repay him. Only one thing was required. That you, you yourself, proclaim your friendship. And then, no matter how poor or powerless the supplicant, Don Corleone would take that man’s troubles to his heart. And he would let nothing stand in the way to a solution of that man’s woe. His reward? Friendship, the respectful title of “Don,” and sometimes the more affectionate salutation of “Godfather.” And perhaps, to show respect only, never for profit, some humble gift— a gallon of homemade wine or a basket of peppered taralles— specially baked to grace his Christmas table. It was understood, it was mere good manners, to proclaim that you were in his debt and that he had the right to call upon you at any time to redeem your debt by some small service.
Now on this great day, his daughter’s wedding day, Don Vito Corleone stood in the doorway of his Long Beach home to greet his guests, all of them known, all of them trusted. Many of them owed their good fortune in life to the Don and on this intimate occasion felt free to call him “Godfather” to his face. Even the people performing festal services were his friends. The bartender was an old comrade whose gift was all the wedding liquors and his own expert skills. The waiters were the friends of Don Corleone’s sons. The food on the garden picnic tables had been cooked by the Don’s wife and her friends and the gaily festooned one-acre garden itself had been decorated by the young girl—chums of the bride.
Don Corleone received everyone— rich and poor, powerful and humble— with an equal show of love. He slighted no one. That was his character. And the guests so exclaimed at how well he looked in his tux that an inexperienced observer might easily have thought the Don himself was the lucky groom.
Standing at the door with him were two of his three sons. The eldest, baptized Santino but called Sonny by everyone except his father, was looked at askance by the older Italian men; with admiration by the younger. Sonny Corleone was tall for a first-generation American of Italian parentage, almost six feet, and his crop of bushy, curly hair made him look even taller. His face was that of a gross Cupid, the features even but the bow-shaped lips thickly sensual, the dimpled cleft chin in some curious way obscene. He was built as powerfully as a bull and it was common knowledge that he was so generously endowed by nature that his martyred wife feared the marriage bed as unbelievers once feared the rack. It was whispered that when as a youth he had visited houses of ill fame, even the most hardened and fearless putain, after an awed inspection of his massive organ, demanded double price.
Here at the wedding feast, some young matrons, wide-hipped, wide-mouthed, measured Sonny Corleone with coolly confident eyes. But on this particular day they were wasting their time. Sonny Corleone, despite the presence of his wife and three small children, had plans for his sister’s maid of honor, Lucy Mancini. This young girl, fully aware, sat at a garden table in her pink formal gown, a tiara of flowers in her glossy black hair. She had flirted with Sonny in the past week of rehearsals and squeezed his hand that morning at the altar. A maiden could do no more.
She did not care that he would never be the great man his father had proved to be. Sonny Corleone had strength, he had courage. He was generous and his heart was admitted to be as big as his organ. Yet he did not have his father’s humility but instead a quick, hot temper that led him into errors of judgment. Though he was a great help in his father’s business, there were many who doubted that he would become the heir to it.
The second son, Frederico, called Fred or Fredo,was a child every Italian prayed to the saints for. Dutiful, loyal, always at the service of his father, living with his parents at age thirty. He was short and burly, not handsome but with the same Cupid head of the family, the curly helmet of hair over the round face and sensual bow-shaped lips. Only, in Fred, these lips were not sensual but granitelike. Inclined to dourness, he was still a crutch to his father, never disputed him, never embarrassed him by scandalous behavior with women. Despite all these virtues he did not have that personal magnetism, that animal force, so necessary for a leader of men, and he too was not expected to inherit the family business.
The third son, Michael Corleone, did not stand with his father and his two brothers but sat at a table in the most secluded corner of the garden. But even there he could not escape the attentions of the family friends.
Michael Corleone was the youngest son of the Don and the only child who had refused the great man’s direction. He did not have the heavy, Cupid-shaped face of the other children, and his jet black hair was straight rather than curly. His skin was a clear olive-brown that would have been called beautiful in a girl. He was handsome in a delicate way. Indeed there had been a time whey the Don had worried about his youngest son’s masculinity. A worry that was put to rest when Michael Corleone became seventeen years old.
Now this youngest son sat at a table in the extreme corner of the garden to proclaim his chosen alienation from father and family. Beside him sat the American girl everyone had heard about but whom no one had seen until this day. He had, of course, shown the proper respect and introduced her to everyone at the wedding, including his family. They were not impressed with her. She was too thin, she was too fair, her face was too sharply intelligent for a woman, her manner too free for a maiden. Her name, too, was outlandish to their ears; she called herself Kay Adams. If she had told them that her family had settled in America two hundred years ago and her name was a common one, they would have shrugged.
Every guest noticed that the Don paid no particular attention to this third son. Michael had been his favorite before the war and obviously the chosen heir to run the family business when the proper moment came. He had all the quiet force and intelligence of his great father, the born instinct to act in such a way that men had no recourse but to respect him. But when World War II broke out, Michael Corleone volunteered for the Marine Corps. He defied his father’s express command when he did so.
Don Corleone had no desire, no intention, of letting his youngest son be killed in the service of a power foreign to himself. Doctors had been bribed, secret arrangements had been made. A great deal of money had been spent to take the proper precautions. But Michael was twenty-one years of age and nothing could be done against his own willfulness. He enlisted and fought over the Pacific Ocean. He became a Captain and won medals. In 1944 his picture was printed in Life magazine with a photo layout of his deeds. A friend had shown Don Corleone the magazine (his family did not dare), and the Don had grunted disdainfully and said, “He performs those miracles for strangers.”
When Michael Corleone was discharged early in 1945 to recover from a disabling wound, he had no idea that his father had arranged his release. He stayed home for a few weeks, then, without consulting anyone, entered Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and so he left his father’s house. To return for the wedding of his sister and to show his own future wife to them, the washed-out rag of an American girl.
Michael Corleone was amusing Kay Adams by telling her little stories about some of the more colorful wedding guests. He was, in turn, amused by her finding these people exotic, and, as always, charmed by her intense interest in anything new and foreign to her experience. Finally her attention was caught by a small group of men gathered around a wooden barrel of homemade wine. The men were Amerigo Bonasera, Nazorine the Baker, Anthony Coppola and Luca Brasi. With her usual alert intelligence she remarked on the fact that these four men did not seem particularly happy. Michael smiled. “No, they’re not,” he said. “They’re waiting to see my father in private. They have favors to ask.” And indeed it was easy to see that all four men constantly followed the Don with their eyes.
As Don Corleone stood greeting guests, a black Chevrolet sedan came to a stop on the far side of the paved mall. Two men in the front seat pulled notebooks from their jackets and, with no attempt at concealment, jotted down license numbers of the other cars parked around the mall. Sonny turned to his father and said, “Those guys over there must be cops.”
Don Corleone shrugged. “I don’t own the street. They can do what they please.”
Sonny’s heavy Cupid face grew red with anger. “Those lousy bastards, they don’t respect anything.” He left the steps of the house and walked across the mall to where the black sedan was parked. He thrust his face angrily close to the face of the driver, who did not flinch but flapped open his wallet to show a green identification card. Sonny stepped back without saying a word. He spat so that the spittle hit the back door of the sedan and walked away. He was hoping the driver would get out of the sedan and come after him, on the mall, but nothing happened. When he reached the steps he said to his father, “Those guys are FBI men. They’re taking down all the license numbers. Snotty bastards.”
Don Corleone knew who they were. His closest and most intimate friends had been advised to attend the wedding in automobiles not their own. And though he disapproved of his son’s foolish display of anger, the tantrum served a purpose. It would convince the interlopers that their presence was unexpected and unprepared for. So Don Corleone himself was not angry. He had long ago learned that society imposes insults that must be borne, comforted by the knowledge that in this world there comes a time when the most humble of men, if he keeps his eyes open, can take his revenge on the most powerful. It was this knowledge that prevented the Don from losing the humility all his friends admired in him.
But now in the garden, behind the house, a four-piece band began to play. All the guests had arrived. Don Corleone put the intruders out of his mind and led his two sons to the wedding feast.
* * *
There were, now, hundreds of guests in the huge garden, some dancing on the wooden platform bedecked with flowers, others sitting at long tables piled high with spicy food and gallon jugs of black, homemade wine. The bride, Connie Corleone, sat in splendor at a special raised table with her groom, the maid of honor, bridesmaids and ushers. It was a rustic setting in the old Italian style. Not to the bride’s taste, but Connie had consented to a “guinea” wedding to please her father because she had so displeased him in her choice of a husband.
The groom, Carlo Rizzi, was a half-breed, born of a Sicilian father and the North Italian mother from whom he had inherited his blond hair and blue eyes. His parents lived in Nevada and Carlo had left that state because of a little trouble with the law. In New York he met Sonny Corleone and so met the sister. Don Corleone, of course, sent trusted friends to Nevada and they reported that Carlo’s police trouble was a youthful indiscretion with a gun, not serious, that could easily be wiped off the books to leave the youth with a clean record. They also came back with detailed information on legal gambling in Nevada which greatly interested the Don and which he had been pondering over since. It was part of the Don’s greatness that he profited from everything.
Connie Corleone was a not quite pretty girl, thin and nervous and certain to become shrewish later in life. But today, transformed by her white bridal gown and eager virginity, she was so radiant as to be almost beautiful. Beneath the wooden table her hand rested on the muscular thigh of her groom. Her Cupid-bow mouth pouted to give him an airy kiss.
She thought him incredibly handsome. Carlo Rizzi had worked in the open desert air while very young— heavy laborer’s work. Now he had tremendous forearms and his shoulders bulged the jacket of his tux. He basked in the adoring eyes of his bride and filled her glass with wine. He was elaborately courteous to her as if they were both actors in a play. But his eyes kept flickering toward the huge silk purse the bride wore on her right shoulder and which was now stuffed full of money envelopes. How much did it hold? Ten thousand? Twenty thousand? Carlo Rizzi smiled. It was only the beginning. He had, after all, married into a royal family. They would have to take care of him.
In the crowd of guests a dapper young man with the sleek head of a ferret was also studying the silk purse. From sheer habit Paulie Gatto wondered just how he could go about hijacking that fat pocketbook. The idea amused him. But he knew it was idle, innocent dreaming as small children dream of knocking out tanks with popguns. He watched his boss, fat, middle-aged Peter Clemenza whirling young girls around the wooden dance floor in a rustic and lusty Tarantella. Clemenza, immensely tall, immensely huge, danced with such skill and abandon, his hard belly lecherously bumping the breasts of younger, tinier women, that all the guests were applauding him. Older women grabbed his arm to become his next partner. The younger men respectfully cleared off the floor and clapped their hands in time to the mandolin’s wild strumming. When Clemenza finally collapsed in a chair, Paulie Gatto brought him a glass of icy black wine and wiped the perspiring Jovelike brow with his silk handkerchief. Clemenza was blowing like a whale as he gulped down the wine. But instead of thanking Paulie he said curtly, “Never mind being a dance judge, do your job. Take a walk around the neighborhood and see everything is OK.” Paulie slid away into the crowd.
The band took a refreshment break. A young man named Nino Valenti picked up a discarded mandolin, put his left foot up on a chair and began to sing a coarse Sicilian love song. Nino Valenti’s face was handsome though bloated by continual drinking and he was already a little drunk. He rolled his eyes as his tongue caressed the obscene lyrics. The women shrieked with glee and the men shouted the last word of each stanza with the singer.
Don Corleone, notoriously straitlaced in such matters, though his stout wife was screaming joyfully with the others, disappeared tactfully into the house. Seeing this, Sonny Corleone made his way to the bride’s table and sat down beside young Lucy Mancini, the maid of honor. They were safe. His wife was in the kitchen putting the last touches on the serving of the wedding cake. Sonny whispered a few words in the young girl’s ear and she rose. Sonny waited a few minutes and then casually followed her, stopping to talk with a guest here and there as he worked his way through the crowd.
All eyes followed them. The maid of honor, thoroughly Americanized by three years of college, was a ripe girl who already had a “reputation.” All through the marriage rehearsals she had flirted with Sonny Corleone in a teasing, joking way she thought was permitted because he was the best man and her wedding partner. Now holding her pink gown up off the ground, Lucy Mancini went into the house, smiling with false innocence; ran lightly up the stairs to the bathroom. She stayed there for a few moments. When she came out Sonny Corleone was on the landing above, beckoning her upward.
From behind the closed window of Don Corleone’s “office,” a slightly raised corner room, Thomas Hagen watched the wedding party in the festooned garden. The walls behind him were stacked with law books. Hagen was the Don’s lawyer and acting Consigliere, or counselor, and as such held the most vital subordinate position in the family business. He and the Don had solved many a knotty problem in this room, and so when he saw the Godfather leave the festivities and enter the house, he knew, wedding or no, there would be a little work this day. The Don would be coming to see him. Then Hagen saw Sonny Corleone whisper in Lucy Mancini’s ear and their little comedy as he followed her into the house. Hagen grimaced, debated whether to inform the Don, and decided against it. He went to the desk and picked up a handwritten list of the people who had been granted permission to see Don Corleone privately. When the Don entered the room, Hagen handed him the list. Don Corleone nodded and said, “Leave Bonasera to the end.”
Hagen used the French doors and went directly out into the garden to where the supplicants clustered around the barrel of wine. He pointed to the baker, the pudgy Nazorine.
Don Corleone greeted the baker with an embrace. They had played together as children in Italy and had grown up in friendship. Every Easter freshly baked clotted-cheese and wheat-germ pies, their crusts yolk-gold, big around as truck wheels, arrived at Don Corleone’s home. On Christmas, on family birthdays, rich creamy pastries proclaimed the Nazorines’ respect. And all through the years, lean and fat, Nazorine cheerfully paid his dues to the bakery union organized by the Don in his salad days. Never asking for a favor in return except for the chance to buy black-market OPA sugar coupons during the war. Now the time had come for the baker to claim his rights as a loyal friend, and Don Corleone looked forward with great pleasure to granting his request.
He gave the baker a Di Nobili cigar and a glass of yellow Strega and put his hand on the man’s shoulder to urge him on. That was the mark of the Don’s humanity. He knew from bitter experience what courage it took to ask a favor from a fellow man.
The baker told the story of his daughter and Enzo. A fine Italian lad from Sicily; captured by the American Army; sent to the United States as a prisoner of war; given parole to help our war effort! A pure and honorable love had sprung up between honest Enzo and his sheltered Katherine but now that the war was ended the poor lad would be repatriated to Italy and Nazorine’s daughter would surely die of a broken heart. Only Godfather Corleone could help this afflicted couple. He was their last hope.
The Don walked Nazorine up and down the room, his hand on the baker’s shoulder, his head nodding with understanding to keep up the man’s courage. When the baker had finished, Don Corleone smiled at him and said, “My dear friend, put all your worries aside.” He went on to explain very carefully what must be done. The Congressman of the district must be petitioned. The Congressman would propose a special bill that would allow Enzo to become a citizen. The bill would surely pass Congress. A privilege all those rascals extended to each other. Don Corleone explained that this would cost money, the going price was now two thousand dollars. He, Don Corleone, would guarantee performance and accept payment. Did his friend agree?
The baker nodded his head vigorously. He did not expect such a great favor for nothing. That was understood. A special Act of Congress does not come cheap. Nazorine was almost tearful in his thanks. Don Corleone walked him to the door, assuring him that competent people would be sent to the bakery to arrange all details, complete all necessary documents. The baker embraced him before disappearing into the garden.
Hagen smiled at the Don. “That’s a good investment for Nazorine. A son-in-law and a cheap lifetime helper in his bakery all for two thousand dollars.” He paused. “Who do I give this job to?”
Don Corleone frowned in thought. “Not to our paisan. Give it to the Jew in the next district. Have the home addresses changed. I think there might be many such cases now the war is over; we should have extra people in Washington that can handle the overflow and not raise the price.” Hagen made a note on his pad. “Not Congressman Luteco. Try Fischer.”
The next man Hagen brought in was a very simple case. His name was Anthony Coppola and he was the son of a man Don Corleone had worked with in the railroad yards in his youth. Coppola needed five hundred dollars to open a pizzeria; for a deposit on fixtures and the special oven. For reasons not gone into, credit was not available. The Don reached into his pocket and took out a roll of bills. It was not quite enough. He grimaced and said to Tom Hagen, “Loan me a hundred dollars, I’ll pay you back Monday when I go to the bank.” The supplicant protested that four hundred dollars would be ample, but Don Corleone patted his shoulder, saying, apologetically, “This fancy wedding left me a little short of cash.” He took the money Hagen extended to him and gave it to Anthony Coppola with his own roll of bills.
Hagen watched with quiet admiration. The Don always taught that when a man was generous, he must show the generosity as personal. How flattering to Anthony Coppola that a man like the Don would borrow to loan him money. Not that Coppola did not know that the Don was a millionaire but how many millionaires let themselves be put to even a small inconvenience by a poor friend?
The Don raised his head inquiringly. Hagen said, “He’s not on the list but Luca Brasi wants to see you. He understands it can’t be public but he wants to congratulate you in person.”
For the first time the Don seemed displeased. The answer was devious. “Is it necessary?” he asked.
Hagen shrugged. “You understand him better than I do. But he was very grateful that you invited him to the wedding. He never expected that. I think he wants to show his gratitude.”
Don Corleone nodded and gestured that Luca Brasi should be brought to him.
In the garden Kay Adams was struck by the violet fury imprinted on the face of Luca Brasi. She asked about him. Michael had brought Kay to the wedding so that she would slowly and perhaps without too much of a shock, absorb the truth about his father. But so far she seemed to regard the Don as a slightly unethical businessman. Michael decided to tell her part of the truth indirectly. He explained that Luca Brasi was one of the most feared men in the Eastern underworld. His great talent, it was said, was that he could do a job of murder all by himself, without confederates, which automatically made discovery and conviction by the law almost impossible. Michael grimaced and said, “I don’t know whether all that stuff is true. I do know he is sort of a friend to my father.”
For the first time Kay began to understand. She asked a little incredulously, “You’re not hinting that a man like that works for your father?”
The hell with it, he thought. He said, straight out, “Nearly fifteen years ago some people wanted to take over my father’s oil importing business. They tried to kill him and nearly did. Luca Brasi went after them. The story is that he killed six men in two weeks and that ended the famous olive oil war.” He smiled as if it were a joke.
Kay shuddered. “You mean your father was shot by gangsters?”
“Fifteen years ago,” Michael said. “Everything’s been peaceful since then.” He was afraid he had gone too far.
“You’re trying to scare me,” Kay said. “You just don’t want me to marry you.” She smiled at him and poked his ribs with her elbow. “Very clever.”
Michael smiled back at her. “I want you to think about it,” he said.
“Did he really kill six men?” Kay asked.
“That’s what the newspapers claimed,” Mike said. “Nobody ever proved it. But there’s another story about him that nobody ever tells. It’s supposed to be so terrible that even my father won’t talk about it. Tom Hagen knows the story and he won’t tell me. Once I kidded him, I said, ‘When will I be old enough to hear that story about Luca?’ and Tom said, ‘When you’re a hundred.’ ”Michael sipped his glass of wine. “That must be some story. That must be some Luca.”
Luca Brasi was indeed a man to frighten the devil in hell himself. Short, squat, massive-skulled, his presence sent out alarm bells of danger. His face was stamped into a mask of fury. The eyes were brown but with none of the warmth of that color, more a deadly tan. The mouth was not so much cruel as lifeless; thin, rubbery and the color of veal.
Brasi’s reputation for violence was awesome and his devotion to Don Corleone legendary. He was, in himself, one of the great blocks that supported the Don’s power structure. His kind was a rarity.
Luca Brasi did not fear the police, he did not fear society, he did not fear God, he did not fear hell, he did not fear or love his fellow man. But he had elected, he had chosen, to fear and love Don Corleone. Ushered into the presence of the Don, the terrible Brasi held himself stiff with respect. He stuttered over the flowery congatulations he offered and his formal hope that the first grandchild would be masculine. He then handed the Don an envelope stuffed with cash as a gift for the bridal couple.
So that was what he wanted to do. Hagen noticed the change in Don Corleone. The Don received Brasi as a king greets a subject who has done him an enormous service, never familiar but with regal respect. With every gesture, with every word, Don Corleone made it clear to Luca Brasi that he was valued. Not for one moment did he show surprise at the wedding gift being presented to him personally. He understood.
The money in the envelope was sure to be more than anyone else had given. Brasi had spent many hours deciding on the sum, comparing it to what the other guests might offer. He wanted to be the most generous to show that he had the most respect, and that was why he had given his envelope to the Don personally, a gaucherie the Don overlooked in his own flowery sentence of thanks. Hagen saw Luca Brasi’s face lose its mask of fury, swell with pride and pleasure. Brasi kissed the Don’s hand before he went out the door that Hagen held open. Hagen prudently gave Brasi a friendly smile which the squat man acknowledged with a polite stretching of rubbery, veal-colored lips.
When the door closed Don Corleone gave a small sigh of relief. Brasi was the only man in the world who could make him nervous. The man was like a natural force, not truly subject to control. He had to be handled as gingerly as dynamite. The Don shrugged. Even dynamite could be exploded harmlessly if the need arose. He looked questioningly at Hagen. “Is Bonasera the only one left?”
Hagen nodded. Don Corleone frowned in thought, then said, “Before you bring him in, tell Santino to come here. He should learn some things.”
Out in the garden, Hagen searched anxiously for Sonny Corleone. He told the waiting Bonasera to be patient and went over to Michael Corleone and his girl friend. “Did you see Sonny around?” he asked. Michael shook his head. Damn, Hagen thought, if Sonny was screwing the maid of honor all this time there was going to be a mess of trouble. His wife, the young girl’s family; it could be a disaster. Anxiously he hurried to the entrance through which he had seen Sonny disappear almost a half hour ago.
Seeing Hagen go into the house, Kay Adams asked Michael Corleone, “Who is he? You introduced him as your brother but his name is different and he certainly doesn’t look Italian.”
“Tom lived with us since he was twelve years old,” Michael said. “His parents died and he was roaming around the streets with this bad eye infection. Sonny brought him home one night and he just stayed. He didn’t have anyplace to go. He lived with us until he got married.”
Kay Adams was thrilled. “That’s really romantic,” she said. “Your father must be a warmhearted person. To adopt somebody just like that when he had so many children of his own.”
Michael didn’t bother to point out that immigrant Italians considered four children a small family. He merely said, “Tom wasn’t adopted. He just lived with us.”
“Oh,” Kay said, then asked curiously, “why didn’t you adopt him?”
Michael laughed. “Because my father said it would be disrespectful for Tom to change his name. Disrespectful to his own parents.”
They saw Hagen shoo Sonny through the French door into the Don’s office and then crook a finger at Amerigo Bonasera. “Why do they bother your father with business on a day like this?” Kay asked.
Michael laughed again. “Because they know that by tradition no Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter’s wedding day. And no Sicilian ever lets a chance like that go by.”
* * *
Lucy Mancini lifted her pink gown off the floor and ran up the steps. Sonny Corleone’s heavy Cupid face, redly obscene with winey lust, frightened her, but she had teased him for the past week to just this end. In her two college love affairs she had felt nothing and neither of them lasted more than a week. Quarreling, her second lover had mumbled something about her being “too big down there.” Lucy had understood and for the rest of the school term had refused to go out on any dates.
During the summer, preparing for the wedding of her best friend, Connie Corleone, Lucy heard the whispered stories about Sonny. One Sunday afternoon in the Corleone kitchen, Sonny’s wife Sandra gossiped freely. Sandra was a coarse, good-natured woman who had been born in Italy but brought to America as a small child. She was strongly built with great breasts and had already borne three children in five years of marriage. Sandra and the other women teased Connie about the terrors of the nuptial bed. “My God,” Sandra had giggled, “when I saw that pole of Sonny’s for the first time and realized he was going to stick it into me, I yelled bloody murder. After the first year my insides felt as mushy as macaroni boiled for an hour. When I heard he was doing the job on other girls I went to church and lit a candle.”
They had all laughed but Lucy had felt her flesh twitching between her legs.
Now as she ran up the steps toward Sonny a tremendous flash of desire went through her body. On the landing Sonny grabbed her hand and pulled her down the hall into an empty bedroom. Her legs went weak as the door closed behind them. She felt Sonny’s mouth on hers, his lips tasting of burnt tobacco, bitter. She opened her mouth. At that moment she felt his hand come up beneath her bridesmaid’s gown, heard the rustle of material giving way, felt his large warm hand between her legs, ripping aside the satin panties to caress her vulva. She put her arms around his neck and hung there as he opened his trousers. Then he placed both hands beneath her bare buttocks and lifted her. She gave a little hop in the air so that both her legs were wrapped around his upper thighs. His tongue was in her mouth and she sucked on it. He gave a savage thrust that banged her head against the door. She felt something burning pass between her thighs. She let her right hand drop from his neck and reached down to guide him. Her hand closed around an enormous, blood-gorged pole of muscle. It pulsated in her hand like an animal and almost weeping with grateful ecstasy she pointed it into her own wet, turgid flesh. The thrust of its entering, the unbelievable pleasure made her gasp, brought her legs up almost around his neck, and then like a quiver, her body received the savage arrows of his lightning-like thrusts; innumerable, torturing; arching her pelvis higher and higher until for the first time in her life she reached a shattering climax, felt his hardness break and then the crawly flood of semen over her thighs. Slowly her legs relaxed from around his body, slid down until they reached the floor. They leaned against each other, out of breath.
It might have been going on for some time but now they could hear the soft knocking on the door. Sonny quickly buttoned his trousers, meanwhile blocking the door so that it could not be opened. Lucy frantically smoothed down her pink gown, her eyes flickering, but the thing that had given her so much pleasure was hidden inside sober black cloth. Then they heard Tom Hagen’s voice, very low, “Sonny, you in there?”
Sonny sighed with relief. He winked at Lucy. “Yeah, Tom, what is it?”
Hagen’s voice, still low, said, “The Don wants you in his office. Now.” They could hear his footsteps as he walked away. Sonny waited for a few moments, gave Lucy a hard kiss on the lips, and then slipped out the door after Hagen.
Lucy combed her hair. She checked her dress and pulled around her garter straps. Her body felt bruised, her lips pulpy and tender. She went out the door and though she felt the sticky wetness between her thighs she did not go to the bathroom to wash but ran straight on down the steps and into the garden. She took her seat at the bridal table next to Connie, who exclaimed petulantly, “Lucy, where were you? You look drunk. Stay beside me now.”
The blond groom poured Lucy a glass of wine and smiled knowingly. Lucy didn’t care. She lifted the grapey, dark red juice to her parched mouth and drank. She felt the sticky wetness between her thighs and pressed her legs together. Her body was trembling. Over the glass rim, as she drank, her eyes searched hungrily to find Sonny Corleone. There was no one else she cared to see. Slyly she whispered in Connie’s ear, “Only a few hours more and you’ll know what it’s all about.” Connie giggled. Lucy demurely folded her hands on the table, treacherously triumphant, as if she had stolen a treasure from the bride.
* * *
Amerigo Bonasera followed Hagen into the corner room of the house and found Don Corleone sitting behind a huge desk. Sonny Corleone was standing by the window, looking out into the garden. For the first time that afternoon the Don behaved coolly. He did not embrace the visitor or shake hands. The sallow-faced undertaker owed his invitation to the fact that his wife and the wife of the Don were the closest of friends. Amerigo Bonasera himself was in severe disfavor with Don Corleone.
Bonasera began his request obliquely and cleverly. “You must excuse my daughter, your wife’s goddaughter, for not doing your family the respect of coming today. She is in the hospital still.” He glanced at Sonny Corleone and Tom Hagen to indicate that he did not wish to speak before them. But the Don was merciless.
“We all know of your daughter’s misfortune,” Don Corleone said. “If I can help her in any way, you have only to speak. My wife is her godmother after all. I have never forgotten that honor.” This was a rebuke. The undertaker never called Don Corleone, “Godfather” as custom dictated.
Bonasera, ashen-faced, asked, directly now, “May I speak to you alone?”
Don Corleone shook his head. “I trust these two men with my life. They are my two right arms. I cannot insult them by sending them away.”
The undertaker closed his eyes for a moment and then began to speak. His voice was quiet, the voice he used to console the bereaved. “I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I believe in America. America has made my fortune. I gave my daughter her freedom and yet taught her never to dishonor her family. She found a ‘boy friend,’ not an Italian. She went to the movies with him. She stayed out late. But he never came to meet her parents. I accepted all this without a protest, the fault is mine. Two months ago he took her for a drive. He had a masculine friend with him. They made her drink whiskey and then they tried to take advantage of her. She resisted. She kept her honor. They beat her. Like an animal. When I went to the hospital she had two black eyes. Her nose was broken. Her jaw was shattered. They had to wire it together. She wept through her pain. ‘Father, Father, why did they do it? Why did they do this to me?’ And I wept.” Bonasera could not speak further, he was weeping now though his voice had not betrayed his emotion.
Don Corleone, as if against his will, made a gesture of sympathy and Bonasera went on, his voice human with suffering. “Why did I weep? She was the light of my life, an affectionate daughter. A beautiful girl. She trusted people and now she will never trust them again. She will never be beautiful again.” He was trembling, his sallow face flushed an ugly dark red.
“I went to the police like a good American. The two boys were arrested. They were brought to trial. The evidence was overwhelming and they pleaded guilty. The judge sentenced them to three years in prison and suspended the sentence. They went free that very day. I stood in the courtroom like a fool and those bastards smiled at me. And then I said to my wife: ‘We must go to Don Corleone for justice.’ ”
The Don had bowed his head to show respect for the man’s grief. But when he spoke, the words were cold with offended dignity. “Why did you go to the police? Why didn’t you come to me at the beginning of this affair?”
Bonasera muttered almost inaudibly, “What do you want of me? Tell me what you wish. But do what I beg you to do.” There was something almost insolent in his words.
Don Corleone said gravely, “And what is that?”
Bonasera glanced at Hagen and Sonny Corleone and shook his head. The Don, still sitting at Hagen’s desk, inclined his body toward the undertaker. Bonasera hesitated, then bent down and put his lips so close to the Don’s hairy ear that they touched. Don Corleone listened like a priest in the confessional, gazing away into the distance, impassive, remote. They stood so for a long moment until Bonasera finished whispering and straightened to his full height. The Don looked up gravely at Bonasera. Bonasera, his face flushed, returned the stare unflinchingly.
Finally the Don spoke. “That I cannot do. You are being carried away.”
Bonasera said loudly, clearly, “I will pay you anything you ask.” On hearing this, Hagen flinched, a nervous flick of his head. Sonny Corleone folded his arms, smiled sardonically as he turned from the window to watch the scene in the room for the first time.
Don Corleone rose from behind the desk. His face was still impassive but his voice rang like cold death. “We have known each other many years, you and I,” he said to the undertaker, “but until this day you never came to me for counsel or help. I can’t remember the last time you invited me to your house for coffee though my wife is godmother to your only child. Let us be frank. You spurned my friendship. You feared to be in my debt.”
Bonasera murmured, “I didn’t want to get into trouble.”
The Don held up his hand. “No. Don’t speak. You found America a paradise. You had a good trade, you made a good living, you thought the world a harmless place where you could take your pleasure as you willed. You never armed yourself with true friends. After all, the police guarded you, there were courts of law, you and yours could come to no harm. You did not need Don Corleone. Very well. My feelings were wounded but I am not that sort of person why thrusts his friendship on those who do not value it— on those who think me of little account.” The Don paused and gave the undertaker a polite, ironic smile. “Now you come to me and say, ‘Don Corleone give me justice.’ And you do not ask with respect. You do not offer me your friendship. You come into my home on the bridal day of my daughter and you ask me to do murder and you say”—here the Don’s voice became a scornful mimicry—” ‘I will pay you anything.’ No, no, I am not offended, but what have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?”
Bonasera cried out in his anguish and his fear, “America has been good to me. I wanted to be a good citizen. I wanted my child to be American.”
The Don clapped his hands together with decisive approval. “Well spoken. Very fine. Then you have nothing to complain about. The judge has ruled. America has ruled. Bring your daughter flowers and a box of candy when you go visit her in the hospital. That will comfort her. Be content. After all, this is not a serious affair, the boys were young, high-spirited, and one of them is the son of a powerful politician. No, my dear Amerigo, you have always been honest. I must admit, though you spurned my friendship, that I would trust the given word of Amerigo Bonasera more than I would any other man’s. So give me your word that you will put aside this madness. It is not American. Forgive. Forget. Life is full of misfortunes.”
The cruel and contemptuous irony with which all this was said, the controlled anger of the Don, reduced the poor undertaker to a quivering jelly but he spoke up bravely again. “I ask you for justice.”
Don Corleone said curtly, “The court gave you justice.”
Bonasera shook his head stubbornly. “No. They gave the youths justice. They did not give me justice.”
The Don acknowledged this fine distinction with an approving nod, then asked, “What is your justice?”
“An eye for an eye,” Bonasera said.
“You asked for more,” the Don said. “Your daughter is alive.”
Bonasera said reluctantly, “Let them suffer as she suffers.” The Don waited for him to speak further. Bonasera screwed up the last of his courage and said, “How much shall I pay you?” It was a despairing wail.
Don Corleone turned his back. It was a dismissal. Bonasera did not budge.
Finally, sighing, a good-hearted man who cannot remain angry with an erring friend, Don Corleone turned back to the undertaker, who was now as pale as one of his corpses. Don Corleone was gentle, patient. “Why do you fear to give your first allegiance to me?” he said. “You go to the law courts and wait for months. You spend money on lawyers who know full well you are to be made a fool of. You accept judgment from a judge who sells himself like the worst whore in the streets. Years gone by, when you needed money, you went to the banks and paid ruinous interest, waited hat in hand like a beggar while they sniffed around, poked their noses up your very asshole to make sure you could pay them back.” The Don paused, his voice became sterner.
“But if you had come to me, my purse would have been yours. If you had come to me for justice those scum who ruined your daughter would be weeping bitter tears this day. If by some misfortune an honest man like yourself made enemies they would become my enemies”— the Don raised his arm, finger pointing at Bonasera— “and then, believe me, they would fear you.”
Bonasera bowed his head and murmured in a strangled voice, “Be my friend. I accept.”
Don Corleone put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Good,” he said, “you shall have your justice. Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do me a service in return. Until that day, consider this justice a gift from my wife, your daughter’s godmother.”
When the door closed behind the grateful undertaker, Don Corleone turned to Hagen and said, “Give this affair to Clemenza and tell him to be sure to use reliable people, people who will not be carried away by the smell of blood. After all, we’re not murderers, no matter what that corpse valet dreams up in his foolish head.” He noted that his firstborn, masculine son was gazing through the window at the garden party. It was hopeless, Don Corleone thought. If he refused to be instructed, Santino could never run the family business, could never become a Don. He would have to find somebody else. And soon. After all, he was not immortal.
From the garden, startling all three men, there came a happy roaring shout. Sonny Corleone pressed close to the window. What he saw made him move quickly toward the door, a delighted smile on his face. “It’s Johnny, he came to the wedding, what did I tell you?” Hagen moved to the window. “It’s really your godson,” he said to Don Corleone. “Shall I bring him here?”
“No,” the Don said. “Let the people enjoy him. Let him come to me when he is ready.” He smiled at Hagen. “You see? He is a good godson.”
Hagen felt a twinge of jealousy. He said dryly, “It’s been two years. He’s probably in trouble again and wants you to help.”
“And who should he come to if not his godfather?” asked Don Corleone.
* * *
The first one to see Johnny Fontane enter the garden was Connie Corleone. She forgot her bridal dignity and screamed, “Johneee.” Then she ran into his arms. He hugged her tight and kissed her on the mouth, kept his arm around her as others came up to greet him. They were all his old friends, people he had grown up with on the West Side. Then Connie was dragging him to her new husband. Johnny saw with amusement that the blond young man looked a little sour at no longer being the star of the day. He turned on all his charm, shaking the groom’s hand, toasting him with a glass of wine.
A familiar voice called from the bandstand, “How about giving us a song, Johnny?” He looked up and saw Nino Valenti smiling down at him. Johnny Fontane jumped up on the bandstand and threw his arms around Nino. They had been inseparable, singing together, going out with girls together, until Johnny had started to become famous and sing on the radio. When he had gone to Hollywood to make movies Johnny had phoned Nino a couple of times just to talk and had promised to get him a club singing date. But he had never done so. Seeing Nino now, his cheerful, mocking, drunken grin, all the affection returned.
Nino began strumming on the mandolin. Johnny Fontane put his hand on Nino’s shoulder. “This is for the bride,” he said, and stamping his foot, chanted the words to an obscene Sicilian love song. As he sang, Nino made suggestive motions with his body. The bride blushed proudly, the throng of guests roared its approval. Before the song ended they were all stamping with their feet and roaring out the sly, double-meaning tag line that finished each stanza. At the end they would not stop applauding until Johnny cleared his throat to sing another song.
They were all proud of him. He was of them and he had become a famous singer, a movie star who slept with the most desired women in the world. And yet he had shown proper respect for his Godfather by traveling three thousand miles to attend this wedding. He still loved old friends like Nino Valenti. Many of the people there had seen Johnny and Nino singing together when they were just boys, when no one dreamed that Johnny Fontane would grow up to hold the hearts of fifty million women in his hands.
Johnny Fontane reached down and lifted the bride up onto the bandstand so that Connie stood between him and Nino. Both men crouched down, facing each other, Nino plucking the mandolin for a few harsh chords. It was an old routine of theirs, a mock battle and wooing, using their voices like swords, each shouting a chorus in turn. With the most delicate courtesy, Johnny let Nino’s voice overwhelm his own, let Nino take the bride from his arm, let Nino swing into the last victorious stanza while his own voice died away. The whole wedding party broke into shouts of applause, the three of them embraced each other at the end. The guests begged for another song.
Only Don Corleone, standing in the corner entrance of the house, sensed something amiss. Cheerily, with bluff good humor, careful not to give offense to his guests, he called out, “My godson has come three thousand miles to do us honor and no one thinks to wet his throat?” At once a dozen full wineglasses were thrust at Johnny Fontane. He took a sip from all and rushed to embrace his Godfather. As he did so he whispered something into the older man’s ear. Don Corleone led him into the house.
Tom Hagen held out his hand when Johnny came into the room. Johnny shook it and said, “How are you, Tom?” But without his usual charm that consisted of a genuine warmth for people. Hagen was a little hurt by this coolness but shrugged it off. It was one of the penalties for being the Don’s hatchet man.
Johnny Fontane said to the Don, “When I got the wedding invitation I said to myself, ‘My Godfather isn’t mad at me anymore.’ I called you five times after my divorce and Tom always told me you were out or busy so I knew you were sore.”
Don Corleone was filling glasses from the yellow bottle of Strega. “That’s all forgotten. Now. Can I do something for you still? You’re not too famous, too rich, that I can’t help you?”
Johnny gulped down the yellow fiery liquid and held out his glass to be refilled. He tried to sound jaunty. “I’m not rich, Godfather. I’m going down. You were right. I should never have left my wife and kids for that tramp I married. I don’t blame you for getting sore at me.”
The Don shrugged. “I worried about you, you’re my godson, that’s all.”
Johnny paced up and down the room. “I was crazy about that bitch. The biggest star in Hollywood. She looks like an angel. And you know what she does after a picture? If the makeup man does a good job on her face, she lets him bang her. If the cameraman made her look extra good, she brings him into her dressing room and gives him a screw. Anybody. She uses her body like I use the loose change in my pocket for a tip. A whore made for the devil.”
Don Corleone curtly broke in. “How is your family?”
Johnny sighed. “I took care of them. After the divorce I gave Ginny and the kids more than the courts said I should. I go see them once a week. I miss them. Sometimes I think I’m going crazy.” He took another drink. “Now my second wife laughs at me. She can’t understand my being jealous. She calls me an old-fashioned guinea, she makes fun of my singing. Before I left I gave her a nice beating but not in the face because she was making a picture. I gave her cramps, I punched her on the arms and legs like a kid and she kept laughing at me.” He lit a cigarette. “So, Godfather, right now, life doesn’t seem worth living.”
Don Corleone said simply. “These are troubles I can’t help you with.” He paused, then asked, “What’s the matter with your voice?”
All the assured charm, the self-mockery, disappeared from Johnny Fontane’s face. He said almost brokenly, “Godfather, I can’t sing anymore, something happened to my throat, the doctors don’t know what.” Hagen and the Don looked at him with surprise, Johnny had always been so tough. Fontane went on. “My two pictures made a lot of money. I was a big star. Now they throw me out. The head of the studio always hated my guts and now he’s paying me off.”
Don Corleone stood before his godson and asked grimly, “Why doesn’t this man like you?”
“I used to sing those songs for the liberal organizations, you know, all that stuff you never liked me to do. Well, Jack Woltz didn’t like it either. He called me a Communist, but he couldn’t make it stick. Then I snatched a girl he had saved for himself. It was strictly a one-night stand and she came after me. What the hell could I do? Then my whore second wife throws me out. And Ginny and the kids won’t take me back unless I come crawling on my hands and knees, and I can’t sing anymore. Godfather, what the hell can I do?”
Don Corleone’s face had become cold without a hint of sympathy. He said contemptuously, “You can start by acting like a man.” Suddenly anger contorted his face. He shouted. “LIKE A MAN!” He reached over the desk and grabbed Johnny Fontane by the hair of his head in a gesture that was savagely affectionate. “By Christ in heaven, is it possible that you spent so much time in my presence and turned out no better than this? A Hollywood finocchio who weeps and begs for pity? Who cries out like a woman— ‘What shall I do? Oh, what shall I do?”
The mimicry of the Don was so extraordinary, so unexpected, that Hagen and Johnny were startled into laughter. Don Corleone was pleased. For a moment he reflected on how much he loved this godson. How would his own three sons have reacted to such a tongue-lashing? Santino would have sulked and behaved badly for weeks afterward. Fredo would have been cowed. Michael would have given him a cold smile and gone out of the house, not to be seen for months. But Johnny, ah, what a fine chap he was, smiling now, gathering strength, knowing already the true purpose of his Godfather.
Don Corleone went on. “You took the woman of your boss, a man more powerful than yourself, then you complain he won’t help you. What nonsense. You left your family, your children without a father, to marry a whore and you weep because they don’t welcome you back with open arms. The whore, you don’t hit her in the face because she is making a picture, then you are amazed because she laughs at you. You lived like a fool and you have come to a fool’s end.”
Don Corleone paused to ask in a patient voice, “Are you willing to take my advice this time?”
Johnny Fontane shrugged. “I can’t marry Ginny again, not the way she wants. I have to gamble, I have to drink, I have to go out with the boys. Beautiful broads run after me and I never could resist them. Then I used to feel like a heel when I went back to Ginny. Christ, I can’t go through all that crap again.”
It was rare that Don Corleone showed exasperation. “I didn’t tell you to get married again. Do what you want. It’s good you wish to be a father to your children. A man who is not a father to his children can never be a real man. But then, you must make their mother accept you. Who says you can’t see them every day? Who says you can’t live in the same house? Who says you can’t live your life exactly as you want to live it?”
Johnny Fontane laughed. “Godfather, not all women are like the old Italian wives. Ginny won’t stand for it.”
Now the Don was mocking. “Because you acted like a finocchio. You gave her more than the court said. You didn’t hit the other in the face because she was making a picture. You let women dictate your actions and they are not competent in this world, though certainly they will be saints in heaven while we men burn in hell. And then I’ve watched you all these years.” The Don’s voice became earnest. “You’ve been a fine godson, you’ve given me all the respect. But what of your other old friends? One year you run around with this person, the next year with another person. That Italian boy who was so funny in the movies, he had some bad luck and you never saw him again because you were more famous. And how about your old, old comrade that you went to school with, who was your partner singing? Nino. He drinks too much out of disappointment but he never complains. He works hard driving the gravel truck and sings weekends for a few dollars. He never says anything against you. You couldn’t help him a bit? Why not? He sings well.”
Johnny Fontane said with patient weariness, “Godfather, he just hasn’t got enough talent. He’s OK, but he’s not big time.”
Don Corleone lidded his eyes almost closed and then said, “And you, godson, you now, you just don’t have talent enough. Shall I get you a job on the gravel truck with Nino?” When Johnny didn’t answer, the Don went on. “Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than government. It is almost the equal of family. Never forget that. If you had built up a wall of friendships you wouldn’t have to ask me to help. Now tell me, why can’t you sing? You sang well in the garden. As well as Nino.”
Hagen and Johnny smiled at this delicate thrust. It was Johnny’s turn to be patronizingly patient. “My voice is weak. I sing one or two songs and then I can’t sing again for hours or days. I can’t make it through the rehearsals or the retakes. My voice is weak, it’s got some sort of sickness.”
“So you have woman trouble. Your voice is sick. Now tell me the trouble you’re having with this Hollywood pezzonovante who won’t let you work.” The Don was getting down to business.
“He’s bigger than one of your pezzonovantes,” Johnny said. “He owns the studio. He advises the President on movie propaganda for the war. Just a month ago he bought the movie rights to the biggest novel of the year. A best seller. And the main character is a guy just like me. I wouldn’t even have to act, just be myself. I wouldn’t even have to sing. I might even win the Academy Award. Everybody knows it’s perfect for me and I’d be big again. As an actor. But that bastard Jack Woltz is paying me off, he won’t give it to me. I offered to do it for nothing, for a minimum price and he still says no. He sent the word that if I come and kiss his ass in the studio commissary, maybe he’ll think about it.”
Don Corleone dismissed this emotional nonsense with a wave of his hand. Among reasonable men problems of business could always be solved. He patted his godson on the shoulder. “You’re discouraged. Nobody cares about you, so you think. And you’ve lost a lot of weight. You drink a lot, eh? You don’t sleep and you take pills?” He shook his head disapprovingly.
“Now I want you to follow my orders,” the Don said. “I want you to stay in my house for one month. I want you to eat well, to rest and sleep. I want you to be my companion, I enjoy your company, and maybe you can learn something about the world from your Godfather that might even help you in the great Hollywood. But no singing, no drinking and no women. At the end of the month you can go back to Hollywood and this pezzonovante, this.90 caliber will give you that job you want. Done?”
Johnny Fontane could not altogether believe that the Don had such power. But his Godfather had never said such and such a thing could be done without having it done. “This guy is a personal friend of J. Edgar Hoover,” Johnny said. “You can’t even raise your voice to him.”
“He’s a businessman,” the Don said blandly. “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
“It’s too late,” Johnny said. “All the contracts have been signed and they start shooting in a week. It’s absolutely impossible.”
Don Corleone said, “Go, go back to the party. Your friends are waiting for you. Leave everything to me.” He pushed Johnny Fontane out of the room.
Hagen sat behind the desk and made notes. The Don heaved a sigh and asked, “Is there anything else?”
“Sollozzo can’t be put off any more. You’ll have to see him this week.” Hagen held his pen over the calendar.
The Don shrugged. “Now that the wedding is over, whenever you like.”
This answer told Hagen two things. Most important, that the answer to Virgil Sollozzo would be no. The second, that Don Corleone, since he would not give the answer before his daughter’s wedding, expected his no to cause trouble.
Hagen said cautiously, “Shall I tell Clemenza to have some men come live in the house?”
The Don said impatiently, “For what? I didn’t answer before the wedding because on an important day like that there should be no cloud, not even in the distance. Also I wanted to know beforehand what he wanted to talk about. We know now. What he will propose is an infamita.”
Hagen asked, “Then you will refuse?” When the Don nodded, Hagen said, “I think we should all discuss it— the whole Family— before you give your answer.”
The Don smiled. “You think so? Good, we will discuss it. When you come back from California. I want you to fly there tomorrow and settle this business for Johnny. See that movie pezzonovante. Tell Sollozzo I will see him when you get back from California. Is there anything else?”
Hagen said formally, “The hospital called. Consigliere Abbandando is dying, he won’t last out the night. His family was told to come and wait.”
Hagen had filled the Consigliere’s post for the past year, ever since the cancer had imprisoned Genco Abbandando in his hospital bed. Now he waited to hear Don Corleone say the post was his permanently. The odds were against it. So high a position was traditionally given only to a man descended from two Italian parents. There had already been trouble about his temporary performance of the duties. Also, he was only thirty-five, not old enough, supposedly, to have acquired the necessary experience and cunning for a successful Consigliere.
But the Don gave him no encouragement. He asked, “When does my daughter leave with her bridegroom?”
Hagen looked at his wristwatch. “In a few minutes they’ll cut the cake and then a half hour after that.” That reminded him of something else. “Your new son-in-law. Do we give him something important, inside the Family?”
He was surprised at the vehemence of the Don’s answer. “Never.” The Don hit the desk with the flat of his hand. “Never. Give him something to earn his living, a good living. But never let him know the Family’s business. Tell the others, Sonny, Fredo, Clemenza.”
The Don paused. “Instruct my sons, all three of them, that they will accompany me to the hospital to see poor Genco. I want them to pay their last respects. Tell Freddie to drive the big car and ask Johnny if he will come with us, as a special favor to me.” He saw Hagen look at him questioningly. “I want you to go to California tonight. You won’t have time to go see Genco. But don’t leave until I come back from the hospital and speak with you. Understood?”
“Understood,” Hagen said. “What time should Fred have the car waiting?”
“When the guests have left,” Don Corleone said. “Genco will wait for me.”
“The Senator called,” Hagen said. “Apologizing for not coming personally but that you would understand. He probably means those two FBI men across the street taking down license numbers. But he sent his gift over by special messenger.”
The Don nodded. He did not think it necessary to mention that he himself had warned the Senator not to come. “Did he send a nice present?”
Hagen made a face of impressed approval that was very strangely Italian on his German-Irish features. “Antique silver, very valuable. The kids can sell it for a grand at least. The Senator spent a lot of time getting exactly the right thing. For those kind of people that’s more important than how much it costs.”
Don Corleone did not hide his pleasure that so great a man as the Senator had shown him such respect. The Senator, like Luca Brasi, was one of the great stones in the Don’s power structure, and he too, with this gift, had resworn his loyalty.
* * *
When Johnny Fontane appeared in the garden, Kay Adams recognized him immediately. She was truly surprised. “You never told me your family knew Johnny Fontane,” she said. “Now I’m sure I’ll marry you.”
“Do you want to meet him?” Michael asked.
“Not now,” Kay said. She sighed. “I was in love with him for three years. I used to come down to New York whenever he sang at the Capitol and scream my head off. He was so wonderful.”
“We’ll meet him later,” Michael said.
When Johnny finished singing and vanished into the house with Don Corleone, Kay said archly to Michael, “Don’t tell me a big movie star like Johnny Fontane has to ask your father for a favor?”
“He’s my father’s godson,” Michael said. “And if it wasn’t for my father he might not be a big movie star today.”
Kay Adams laughed with delight. “That sounds like another great story.”
Michael shook his head “I can’t tell that one,” he said.
“Trust me,” she said.
He told her. He told her without being funny. He told it without pride. He told it without any sort of explanation except that eight years before his father had been more impetuous, and because the matter concerned his godson, the Don considered it an affair of personal honor.
The story was quickly told. Eight years ago Johnny Fontane had made an extraordinary success singing with a popular dance band. He had become a top radio attraction. Unfortunately the band leader, a well-known show business personality named Les Halley, had signed Johnny to a five-year personal services contract. It was a common show business practice. Les Halley could now loan Johnny out and pocket most of the money.
Don Corleone entered the negotiations personally. He offered Les Halley twenty thousand dollars to release Johnny Fontane from the personal services contract. Halley offered to take only fifty percent of Johnny’s earnings. Don Corleone was amused. He dropped his offer from twenty thousand dollars to ten thousand dollars. The band leader, obviously not a man of the world outside his beloved show business, completely missed the significance of this lower offer. He refused.
The next day Don Corleone went to see the band leader personally. He brought with him his two best friends, Genco Abbandando, who was his Consigliere, and Luca Brasi. With no other witnesses Don Corleone persuaded Les Halley to sign a document giving up all rights to all services from Johnny Fontane upon payment of a certified check to the amount of ten thousand dollars. Don Corleone did this by putting a pistol to the forehead of the band leader and assuring him with the utmost seriousness that either his signature or his brains would rest on that document in exactly one minute. Les Halley signed. Don Corleone pocketed his pistol and handed over the certified check.
The rest was history. Johnny Fontane went on to become the greatest singing sensation in the country. He made Hollywood musicals that earned a fortune for his studio. His records made millions of dollars. Then he divorced his childhood-sweetheart wife and left his two children, to marry the most glamorous blond star in motion pictures. He soon learned that she was a “whore.” He drank, he gambled, he chased other women. He lost his singing voice. His records stopped selling. The studio did not renew his contract. And so now he had come back to his Godfather.
Kay said thoughtfully, “Are you sure you’re not jealous of your father? Everything you’ve told me about him shows him doing something for other people. He must be goodhearted.” She smiled wryly. “Of course his methods are not exactly constitutional.”
Michael sighed. “I guess that’s the way it sounds, but let me tell you this. You know those Arctic explorers who leave caches of food scattered on the route to the North Pole? Just in case they may need them someday? That’s my father’s favors. Someday he’ll be at each one of those people’s houses and they had better come across.”
* * *
It was nearly twilight before the wedding cake was shown, exclaimed over and eaten. Specially baked by Nazorine, it was cleverly decorated with shells of cream so dizzyingly delicious that the bride greedily plucked them from the corpse of the cake before she whizzed away on her honeymoon with her blond groom. The Don politely sped his guests’ departure, noting meanwhile that the black sedan with its FBI men was no longer visible.
Finally the only car left in the driveway was the long black Cadillac with Freddie at the wheel. The Don got into the front seat, moving with quick coordination for his age and bulk. Sonny, Michael and Johnny Fontane got into the back seat. Don Corleone said to his son Michael, “Your girl friend, she’ll get back to the city by herself all right?”
Michael nodded. “Tom said he’d take care of it.” Don Corleone nodded with satisfaction at Hagen’s efficiency.
Because of the gas rationing still in effect, there was little traffic on the Belt Parkway to Manhattan. In less than an hour the Cadillac rolled into the street of French Hospital. During the ride Don Corleone asked his youngest son if he was doing well in school. Michael nodded. Then Sonny in the back seat asked his father, “Johnny says you’re getting him squared away with that Hollywood business. Do you want me to go out there and help?”
Don Corleone was curt. “Tom is going tonight. He won’t need any help, it’s a simple affair.”
Sonny Corleone laughed. “Johnny thinks you can’t fix it, that’s why I thought you might want me to go out there.”
Don Corleone turned his head. “Why do you doubt me?” he asked Johnny Fontane. “Hasn’t your Godfather always done what he said he would do? Have I ever been taken for a fool?”
Johnny apologized nervously. “Godfather, the man who runs it is a real.90 caliber pezzonovante. You can’t budge him, not even with money. He has big connections. And he hates me. I just don’t know how you can swing it.”
The Don spoke with affectionate amusement. “I say to you: you shall have it.” He nudged Michael with his elbow. “We won’t disappoint my godson, eh, Michael?”
Michael, who never doubted his father for a moment, shook his head.
As they walked toward the hospital entrance, Don Corleone put his hand on Michael’s arm so that the others forged ahead. “When you get through with college, come and talk to me,” the Don said. “I have some plans you will like.”
Michael didn’t say anything. Don Corleone grunted in exasperation. “I know how you are. I won’t ask you to do anything you don’t approve of. This is something special. Go your own way now, you’re a man after all. But come to me as a son should when you have finished with your schooling.”
* * *
The family of Genco Abbandando, wife and three daughters dressed in black, clustered like a flock of plump crows on the white tile floor of the hospital corridor. When they saw Don Corleone come out of the elevator, they seemed to flutter up off the white tiles in an instinctive surge toward him for protection. The mother was regally stout in black, the daughters fat and plain. Mrs. Abbandando pecked at Don Corleone’s cheek, sobbing, wailing, “Oh, what a saint you are, to come here on your daughter’s wedding day.”
Don Corleone brushed these thanks aside. “Don’t I owe respect to such a friend, a friend who has been my right arm for twenty, years?” He had understood immediately that the soon-to-be widow did not comprehend that her husband would die this night. Genco Abbandando had been in this hospital for nearly a year dying of his cancer and the wife had come to consider his fatal illness almost an ordinary part of life. Tonight was just another crisis. She babbled on. “Go in and see my poor husband,” she said, “he asks for you. Poor man, he wanted to come to the wedding to show his respect but the doctor would not permit it. Then he said you would come to see him on this great day but I did not believe it possible. Ah, men understand friendship more than we women. Go inside, you will make him happy.”
A nurse and a doctor came out of Genco Abbandando’s private room. The doctor was a young man, serious-faced and with the air of one born to command, that is to say, the air of one who has been immensely rich all his life. One of the daughters asked timidly, “Dr. Kennedy, can we go to see him now?”
Dr. Kennedy looked over the large group with exasperation. Didn’t these people realize that the man inside was dying and dying in torturous pain? It would be much better if everyone let him die in peace. “I think just the immediate family,” he said in his exquisitely polite voice. He was surprised when the wife and daughters turned to the short, heavy man dressed in an awkwardly fitted tuxedo, as if to hear his decision.
The heavy man spoke. There was just the slightest trace of an Italian accent in his voice. “My dear doctor,” said Don Corleone, “is it true he is dying?”
“Yes,” said Dr. Kennedy.
“Then there is nothing more for you to do,” said Don Corleone. “We will take up the burden. We will comfort him. We will close his eyes. We will bury him and weep at his funeral and afterwards we will watch over his wife and daughters.” At hearing things put so bluntly, forcing her to understand, Mrs. Abbandando began to weep.
Dr. Kennedy shrugged. It was impossible to explain to these peasants. At the same time he recognized the crude justice in the man’s remarks. His role was over. Still exquisitely polite, he said, “Please wait for the nurse to let you in, she has a few necessary things to do with the patient.” He walked away from them down the corridor, his white coat flapping.
The nurse went back into the room and they waited. Finally she came out again, holding the door for them to enter. She whispered, “He’s delirious with the pain and fever, try not to excite him. And you can stay only a few minutes, except for the wife.” She recognized Johnny Fontane as he went by her and her eyes opened wide. He gave her a faint smile of acknowledgment and she stared at him with frank invitation. He filed her away for future reference, then followed the others into the sick man’s room.
Genco Abbandando had run a long race with death, and now, vanquished, he lay exhausted on the raised bed. He was wasted away to no more than a skeleton, and what had once been vigorous black hair had turned into obscene stringy wisps. Don Corleone said cheerily, “Genco, dear friend, I have brought my sons to pay their respects, and look, even Johnny, all the way from Hollywood.”
The dying man raised his fevered eyes gratefully to the Don. He let the young men clasp his bony hand in their fleshy ones. His wife and daughters ranged themselves along his bed, kissing his cheek, taking his other hand in turn.
The Don pressed his old friend’s hand. He said comfortingly, “Hurry up and get better and we’ll take a trip back to Italy together to our old village. We’ll play boccie in front of the wineshop like our fathers before us.”
The dying man shook his head. He motioned the young men and his family away from his bedside; with the other bony claw he hung fast to the Don. He tried to speak. The Don put his head down and then sat on the bedside chair. Genco Abbandando was babbling about their childhood. Then his coal-black eyes became sly. He whispered. The Don bent closer. The others in the room were astonished to see tears running down Don Corleone’s face as he shook his head. The quavering voice grew louder, filling the room. With a tortured, superhuman effort, Abbandando lifted his head off his pillow, eyes unseeing, and pointed a skeletal forefinger at the Don. “Godfather, Godfather,” he called out blindly, “save me from death, I beg of you. My flesh is burning off my bones and I can feel the worms eating away my brain. Godfather, cure me, you have the power, dry the tears of my poor wife. In Corleone we played together as children and now will you let me die when I fear hell for my sins?”
The Don was silent. Abbandando said, “It is your daughter’s wedding day, you cannot refuse me.”
The Don spoke quietly, gravely, to pierce through the blasphemous delirium. “Old friend,” he said, “I have no such powers. If I did I would be more merciful than God, believe me. But don’t fear death and don’t fear hell. I will have a mass said for your soul every night and every morning. Your wife and your children will pray for you. How can God punish you with so many pleas for mercy?”
The skeleton face took on a cunning expression that was obscene. Abbandanda said slyly, “It’s been arranged then?”
When the Don answered, his voice was cold, without comfort. “You blaspheme. Resign yourself.”
Abbandando fell back on the pillow. His eyes lost their wild gleam of hope. The nurse came back into the room and started shooing them out in a very matter-of-fact way. The Don got up but Abbandando put out his hand. “Godfather,” he said, “stay here with me and help me meet death. Perhaps if He sees you near me He will be frightened and leave me in peace. Or perhaps you can say a word, pull a few strings, eh?” The dying man winked as if he were mocking the Don, now not really serious. “You’re brothers in blood, after all.” Then, as if fearing the Don would be offended, he clutched at his hand. “Stay with me, let me hold your hand. We’ll outwit that bastard as we’ve outwitted others. Godfather, don’t betray me.”
The Don motioned the other people out of the room. They left. He took the withered claw of Genco Abbandando in his own two broad hands. Softly, reassuringly, he comforted his friend, as they waited for death together. As if the Don could truly snatch the life of Gencp Abbandando back from that most foul and criminal traitor to man.
* * *
The wedding day of Connie Corleone ended well for her. Carlo Rizzi performed his duties as a bridegroom with skill and vigor, spurred on by the contents of the bride’s gift purse which totaled up to over twenty thousand dollars. The bride, however, gave up her virginity with a great deal more willingness than she gave up her purse. For the latter, he had to blacken one of her eyes.
Lucy Mancini waited in her house for a call from Sonny Corleone, sure that he would ask her for a date. Finally she called his house and when she heard a woman’s voice answer the phone she hung up. She had no way of knowing that nearly everyone at the wedding had remarked the absence of her and Sonny for that fatal half hour and the gossip was already spreading that Santino Corleone had found another victim. That he had “done the job” on his own sister’s maid of honor.
Amerigo Bonasera had a terrible nightmare. In his dreams he saw Don Corleone, in peaked cap, overalls and heavy gloves, unloading bullet-riddled corpses in front of his funeral parlor and shouting, “Remember, Amerigo, not a word to anyone, and bury them quickly.” He groaned so loud and long in his sleep that his wife shook him awake. “Eh, what a man you are,” she grumbled. “To have a nightmare only after a wedding.”
Kay Adams was escorted to her New York City hotel by Paulie Gatto and Clemenza. The car was large, luxurious and driven by Gatto. Clemenza sat in the back seat and Kay was given the front seat next to the driver. She found both men wildly exotic. Their speech was movie Brooklynese and they treated her with exaggerated courtliness. During the ride she chatted casually with both men and was surprised when they spoke of Michael with unmistakable affection and respect. He had led her to believe that he was an alien in his father’s world. Now Clemenza was assuring her in his wheezing guttural voice that the “old man” thought Mike was the best of his sons, the one who would surely inherit the family business.
“What business is that?” Kay asked in the most natural way.
Paulie Gatto gave her a quick glance as he turned the wheel. Behind her Clemenza said in a surprised voice. “Didn’t Mike tell you? Mr. Corleone is the biggest importer of Italian olive oil in the States. Now that the war is over the business could get real rich. He’ll need a smart boy like Mike.”
At the hotel Clemenza insisted on coming to the desk with her. When she protested, he said simply, “The boss said to make sure you got home OK. I gotta do it.”
After she received her room key he walked her to the elevator and waited until she got in. She waved to him, smiling, and was surprised at his genuine smile of pleasure in return. It was just as well she did not see him go back to the hotel clerk and ask, “What name she registered under?”
The hotel clerk looked at Clemenza coldly. Clemenza rolled the little green spitball he was holding in his hand across to the clerk, who picked it up and immediately said, “Mr. and Mrs. Michael Corleone.”
Back in the car, Paulie Gatto said, “Nice dame.”
Clemenza grunted. “Mike is doing the job on her.” Unless, he thought, they were really married. “Pick me up early in the morning,” he told Paulie Gatto. “Hagen got some deal for us that gotta be done right away.”
* * *
It was late Sunday night before Tom Hagen could kiss his wife good-bye and drive out to the airport. With his special number one priority (a grateful gift from a Pentagon staff general officer) he had no trouble getting on a plane to Los Angeles.
It had been a busy but satisfying day for Tom Hagen. Genco Abbandando had died at three in the morning and when Don Corleone returned from the hospital, he had informed Hagen that he was now officially the new Consigliere to the family. This meant that Hagen was sure to become a very rich man, to say nothing of power.
The Don had broken a long-standing tradition. The Consigliere was always a full-blooded Sicilian, and the fact that Hagen had been brought up as a member of the Don’s family made no difference to that tradition. It was a question of blood. Only a Sicilian born to the ways of ormerta, the law of silence, could be trusted in the key post of Consigliere. Between the head of the family, Don Corleone, who dictated policy, and the operating level of men who actually carried out the orders of the Don, there were three layers, or buffers. In that way nothing could be traced to the top. Unless the Consigliere turned traitor. That Sunday morning Don Corleone gave explicit instructions on what should be done to the two young men who had beaten the daughter of Amerigo Bonasera. But he had given those orders in private to Tom Hagen. Later in the day Hagen had, also in private without witnesses, instructed Clemenza. In turn Clemenza had told Paulie Gatto to execute the commission. Paulie Gatto would now muster the necessary manpower and execute the orders. Paulie Gatto and his men would not know why this particular task was being carried out or who had ordered it originally. Each link of the chain would have to turn traitor for the Don to be involved and though it had never yet happened, there was always the possibility. The cure for that possibility also was known. Only one link in the chain had to disappear.
The Consigliere was also what his name implied. He was the counselor to the Don, his right-hand man, his auxiliary brain. He was also his closest companion and his closest friend. On important trips he would drive the Don’s car, at conferences he would go out and get the Don refreshments, coffee and sandwiches, fresh cigars. He would know everything the Don knew or nearly everything, all the cells of power. He was the one man in the world who could bring the Don crashing down to destruction. But no Consigliere had ever betrayed a Don, not in the memory of any of the powerful Sicilian families who had established themselves in America. There was no future in it. And every Consigliere knew that if he kept the faith, he would become rich, wield power and win respect. If misfortune came, his wife and children would be sheltered and cared for as if he were alive or free. If he kept the faith.
In some matters the Consigliere had to act for his Don in a more open way and yet not involve his principal. Hagen was flying to California on just such a matter. He realized that his career as Consigliere would be seriously affected by the success or failure of this mission. By family business standards whether Johnny Fontane got his coveted part in the war movie, or did not, was a minor matter. Far more important was the meeting Hagen had set up with Virgil Sollozzo the following Friday. But Hagen knew that to the Don, both were of equal importance, which settled the matter for any good Consigliere.
The piston plane shook Tom Hagen’s already nervous insides and he ordered a martini from the hostess to quiet them. Both the Don and Johnny had briefed him on the character of the movie producer, Jack Woltz. From everything that Johnny said, Hagen knew he would never be able to persuade Woltz. But he also had no doubt whatsoever that the Don would keep his promise to Johnny. His own role was that of negotiator and contact.
Lying back in his seat, Hagen went over all the information given to him that day. Jack Woltz was one of the three most important movie producers in Hollywood, owner of his own studio with dozens of stars under contract. He was on the President of the United States’ Advisory Council for War Information, Cinematic Division, which meant simply that he helped make propaganda movies. He had had dinner at the White House. He had entertained J. Edgar Hoover in his Hollywood home. But none of this was as impressive as it sounded. They were all official relationships. Woltz didn’t have any personal political power, mainly because he was an extreme reactionary, partly because he was a megalomaniac who loved to wield power wildly without regard to the fact that by so doing legions of enemies sprang up out of the ground.
Hagen sighed. There would be no way to “handle” Jack Woltz. He opened his briefcase and tried to get some paper work done, but he was too tired. He ordered another martini and reflected on his life. He had no regrets, indeed he felt that he had been extremely lucky. Whatever the reason, the course he had chosen ten years ago had proved to be right for him. He was successful, he was as happy as any grown man could reasonably expect, and he found life interesting.
Tom Hagen was thirty-five years old, a tall crew-cut man, very slender, very ordinary-looking. He was a lawyer but did not do the actual detailed legal work for the Corleone family business though he had practiced law for three years after passing the bar exam.
At the age of eleven he had been a playmate of eleven-year-old Sonny Corleone. Hagen’s mother had gone blind and then died during his eleventh year. Hagen’s father, a heavy drinker, had become a hopeless drunkard. A hardworking carpenter, he had never done a dishonest thing in his life. But his drinking destroyed his family and finally killed him. Tom Hagen was left an orphan who wandered the streets and slept in hallways. His younger sister had been put in a foster home, but in the 1920’s the social agencies did not follow up cases of eleven-year-old boys who were so ungrateful as to run from their charity. Hagen, too, had an eye infection. Neighbors whispered that he had caught or inherited it from his mother and so therefore it could be caught from him. He was shunned. Sonny Corleone, a warmhearted and imperious eleven-year-old, had brought his friend home and demanded that he be taken in. Tom Hagen was given a hot dish of spaghetti with oily rich tomato sauce, the taste of which he had never forgotten, and then given a metal folding bed to sleep on.
In the most natural way, without a word being spoken or the matter discussed in any fashion, Don Corleone had permitted the boy to stay in his household. Don Corleone himself took the boy to a special doctor and had his eye infection cured. He sent him to college and law school. In all this the Don acted not as a father but rather as a guardian. There was no show of affection but oddly enough the Don treated Hagen more courteously than his own sons, did not impose a parental will upon him. It was the boy’s decision to go to law school after college. He had heard Don Corleone say once, “A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.” Meanwhile, much to the annoyance of their father, Sonny and Freddie insisted on going into the family business after graduation from high school. Only Michael had gone on to college, and he had enlisted in the Marines the day after Pearl Harbor.
After he passed the bar exam, Hagen married to start his own family. The bride was a young Italian girl from New Jersey, rare at that time for being a college graduate. After the wedding, which was of course held in the home of Don Corleone, the Don offered to support Hagen in any undertaking he desired, to send him law clients, furnish his office, start him in real estate.
Tom Hagen had bowed his head and said to the Don, “I would like to work for you.”
The Don was surprised, yet pleased. “You know who I am?” he asked.
Hagen nodded. He hadn’t really known the extent of the Don’s power, not then. He did not really know in the ten years that followed until he was made the acting Consigliere after Genco Abbandando became ill. But he nodded and met the Don’s eyes with his own. “I would work for you like your sons,” Hagen said, meaning with complete loyalty, with complete acceptance of the Don’s parental divinity. The Don, with that understanding which was even then building the legend of his greatness, showed the young man the first mark of fatherly affection since he hadcome into his household. He took Hagen into his arms for a quick embrace and afterward treated him more like a true son, though he would sometimes say, “Tom, never forget your parents,” as if he were reminding himself as well as Hagen.
There was no chance that Hagen would forget. His mother had been near moronic and slovenly, so ridden by anemia she could not feel affection for her children or make a pretense of it. His father Hagen had hated. His mother’s blindness before she died had terrified him and his own eye infection had been a stroke of doom. He had been sure he would go blind. When his father died, Tom Hagen’s eleven-year-old mind had snapped in a curious way. He had roamed the streets like an animal waiting for death until the fateful day Sonny found him sleeping in the back of a hallway and brought him to his home. What had happened afterward was a miracle. But for years Hagen had had nightmares, dreaming he had grown to manhood blind, tapping a white cane, his blind children behind him tap-tapping with their little white canes as they begged in the streets. Some mornings when he woke the face of Don Corleone was imprinted on his brain in that first conscious moment and he would feel safe.
But the Don had insisted that he put in three years of general law practice in addition to his duties for the family business. This experience had proved invaluable later on, and also removed any doubts in Hagen’s mind about working for Don Corleone. He had then spent two years of training in the offices of a top firm of criminal lawyers in which the Don had some influence. It was apparent to everyone that he had a flair for this branch of the law. He did well and when he went into the full-time service of the family business, Don Corleone had not been able to reproach him once in the six years that followed.
When he had been made the acting Consigliere, the other powerful Sicilian families referred contemptuously to the Corleone family as the “Irish gang.” This had amused Hagen. It had also taught him that he could never hope to succeed the Don as the head of the family business. But he was content. That had never been his goal, such an ambition would have been a “disrespect” to his benefactor and his benefactor’s blood family.
* * *
It was still dark when the plane landed in Los Angeles. Hagen checked into his hotel, showered and shaved, and watched dawn come over the city. He ordered breakfast and newspapers to be sent up to his room and relaxed until it was time for his ten A.M. appointment with Jack Woltz. The appointment had been surprisingly easy to make.
The day before, Hagen had called the most powerful man in the movie labor unions, a man named Billy Goff. Acting on instructions from Don Corleone, Hagen had told Goff to arrange an appointment on the next day for Hagen to call on Jack Woltz, that he should hint to Woltz that if Hagen was not made happy by the results of the interview, there could be a labor strike at the movie studio. An hour later Hagen received a call from Goff. The appointment would be at ten A.M. Woltz had gotten the message about the possible labor strike but hadn’t seemed too impressed, Goff said. He added, “If it really comes down to that, I gotta talk to the Don myself.”
“If it comes to that he’ll talk to you,” Hagen said. By saying this he avoided making any promises. He was not surprised that Goff was so agreeable to the Don’s wishes. The family empire, technically, did not extend beyond the New York area but Don Corleone had first become strong by helping labor leaders. Many of them still owed him debts of friendship.
But the ten A.M. appointment was a bad sign. It meant that he would be first on the appointment list, that he would not be invited to lunch. It meant that Woltz held him in small worth. Goff had not been threatening enough, probably because Woltz had him on his graft payroll. And sometimes the Don’s success in keeping himself out of the limelight worked to the disadvantage of the family business, in that his name did not mean anything to outside circles.
His analysis proved correct. Woltz kept him waiting for a half hour past the appointed time. Hagen didn’t mind. The reception room was very plush, very comfortable, and on a plum-colored couch opposite him sat the most beautiful child Hagen had ever seen. She was no more than eleven or twelve, dressed in a very expensive but simple way as a grown woman. She had incredibly golden hair, huge deep sea-blue eyes and a fresh raspberry-red mouth. She was guarded by a woman obviously her mother, who tried to stare Hagen down with a cold arrogance that made him want to punch her in the face. The angel child and the dragon mother, Hagen thought, returning the mother’s cold stare.
Finally an exquisitely dressed but stout middle-aged woman came to lead him through a string of offices to the office-apartment of the movie producer. Hagen was impressed by the beauty of the offices and the people working in them. He smiled. They were all shrewdies, trying to get their foot in the movie door by taking office jobs; and most of them would work in these offices for the rest of their lives or until they accepted defeat and returned to their home towns.
Jack Woltz was a tall, powerfully built man with a heavy paunch almost concealed by his perfectly tailored suit. Hagen knew his history. At ten years of age Woltz had hustled empty beer kegs and pushcarts on the East Side. At twenty he helped his father sweat garment workers. At thirty he had left New York and moved West, invested in the nickelodeon and pioneered motion pictures. At forty-eight he had been the most powerful movie magnate in Hollywood, still rough-spoken, rapaciously amorous, a raging wolf ravaging helpless flocks of young starlets. At fifty he transformed himself. He took speech lessons, learned how to dress from an English valet and how to behave socially from an English butler. When his first wife died he married a world-famous and beautiful actress who didn’t like acting. Now at the age of sixty he collected old master paintings, was a member of the President’s Advisory Committee, and had set up a multimillion-dollar foundation in his name to promote art in motion pictures. His daughter had married an English lord, his son an Italian princess.
His latest passion, as reported dutifully by every movie columnist in America, was his own racing stables on which he had spent ten million dollars in the past year. He had made headlines by purchasing the famed English racing horse Khartoum for the incredible price of six hundred thousand dollars and then announcing that the undefeated racer would be retired and put to stud exclusively for the Woltz stables.
He received Hagen courteously, his beautifully, evenly tanned, meticulously barbered face contorted with a grimace meant to be a smile. Despite all the money spent, despite the ministrations of the most knowledgeable technicians, his age showed; the flesh of his face looked as if it had been seamed together. But there was an enormous vitality in his movements and he had what Don Corleone had, the air of a man who commanded absolutely the world in which he lived.
Hagen came directly to the point. That he was an emissary from a friend of Johnny Fontane. That this friend was a very powerful man who would pledge his gratitude and undying friendship to Mr. Woltz if Mr. Woltz would grant a small favor. The small favor would be the casting of Johnny Fontane in the new war movie the studio planned to start next week.
The seamed face was impassive, polite. “What favors can your friend do me?” Woltz asked. There was just a trace of condescension in his voice.
Hagen ignored the condescension. He explained. “You’ve got some labor trouble coming up. My friend can absolutely guarantee to make that trouble disappear. You have a top male star who makes a lot of money for your studio but he just graduated from marijuana to heroin. My friend will guarantee that your male star won’t be able to get any more heroin. And if some other little things come up over the years a phone call to me can solve your problems.”
Jack Woltz listened to this as if he were hearing the boasting of a child. Then he said harshly, his voice deliberately all East Side, “You trying to put muscle on me?”
Hagen said coolly, “Absolutely not. I’ve come to ask a service for a friend. I’ve tried to explain that you won’t lose anything by it.”
Almost as if he willed it, Woltz made his face a mask of anger. The mouth curled, his heavy brows, dyed black, contracted to form a thick line over his glinting eyes. He leaned over the desk toward Hagen. “All right, you smooth son of a bitch, let me lay it on the line for you and your boss, whoever he is. Johnny Fontane never gets that movie. I don’t care how many guinea Mafia goombahs come out of the woodwork.” He leaned back. “A word of advice to you, my friend. J. Edgar Hoover, I assume you’ve heard of him”— Woltz smiled sardonically— “is a personal friend of mine. If I let him know I’m being pressured, you guys will never know what hit you.”
Hagen listened patiently. He had expected better from a man of Woltz’s stature. Was it possible that a man who acted this stupidly could rise to the head of a company worth hundreds of millions? That was something to think about since the Don was looking for new things to put money into, and if the top brains of this industry were so dumb, movies might be the thing. The abuse itself bothered him not at all. Hagen had learned the art of negotiation from the Don himself. “Never get angry,” the Don had instructed. “Never make a threat. Reason with people.” The word “reason” sounded so much better in Italian, ragione, to rejoin. The art of this was to ignore all insults, all threats; to turn the other cheek. Hagen had seen the Don sit at a negotiating table for eight hours, swallowing insults, trying to persuade a notorious and megalomaniac strong-arm man to mend his ways. At the end of the eight hours Don Corleone had thrown up his hands in a helpless gesture and said to the other men at the table, “But no one can reason with this fellow,” and had stalked out of the meeting room. The strong-arm man had turned white with fear. Emissaries were sent to bring the Don back into the room. An agreement was reached but two months later the strong-arm was shot to death in his favorite barbershop.
So Hagen started again, speaking in the most ordinary voice. “Look at my card,” he said. “I’m a lawyer. Would I stick my neck out? Have I uttered one threatening word? Let me just say that I am prepared to meet any condition you name to get Johnny Fontane that movie. I think I’ve already offered a great deal for such a small favor. A favor that I understand it would be in your interest to grant. Johnny tells me that you admit he would be perfect for that part. And let me say that this favor would never be asked if that were not so. In fact, if you’re worried about your investment, my client would finance the picture. But please let me make myself absolutely clear. We understand your no is no. Nobody can force you or is trying to. We know about your friendship with Mr. Hoover, I may add, and my boss respects you for it. He respects that relationship very much.”
Woltz had been doodling with a huge, red-feathered pen. At the mention of money his interest was aroused and he stopped doodling. He said patronizingly, “This picture is budgeted at five million.”
Hagen whistled softly to show that he was impressed. Then he said very casually, “My boss has a lot of friends who back his judgment.”
For the first time Woltz seemed to take the whole thing seriously. He studied Hagen’s card. “I never heard of you,” he said. “I know most of the big lawyers in New York, but just who the hell are you?”
“I have one of those dignified corporate practices,” Hagen said dryly. “I just handle this one account.” He rose. “I won’t take up any more of your time.” He held out his hand, Woltz shook it. Hagen took a few steps toward the door and turned to face Woltz again. “I understand you have to deal with a lot of people who try to seem more important than they are. In my case the reverse is true. Why don’t you check me out with our mutual friend? If you reconsider, call me at my hotel.” He paused. “This may be sacrilege to you, but my client can do things for you that even Mr. Hoover might find out of his range.” He saw the movie producer’s eyes narrowing. Woltz was finally getting the message. “By the way, I admire your pictures very much,” Hagen said in the most fawning voice he could manage. “I hope you can keep up the good work. Our country needs it.”
Late that afternoon Hagen received a call from the producer’s secretary that a car would pick him up within the hour to take him out to Mr. Woltz’s country home for dinner. She told him it would be about a three-hour drive but that the car was equipped with a bar and some hors d’oeuvres. Hagen knew that Woltz made the trip in his private plane and wondered why he hadn’t been invited to make the trip by air. The secretary’s voice was adding politely, “Mr. Woltz suggested you bring an overnight bag and he’ll get you to the airport in the morning.”
“I’ll do that,” Hagen said. That was another thing to wonder about. How did Woltz know he was taking the morning plane back to New York? He thought about it for a moment. The most likely explanation was that Woltz had set private detectives on his trail to get all possible information. Then Woltz certainly knew he represented the Don, which meant that he knew something about the Don, which in turn meant that he was now ready to take the whole matter seriously. Something might be done after all, Hagen thought. And maybe Woltz was smarter than he had appeared this morning.
* * *
The home of Jack Woltz looked like an implausible movie set. There was a plantation-type mansion, huge grounds girdled by a rich black-dirt bridle path, stables and pasture for a herd of horses. The hedges, flower beds and grasses were as carefully manicured as a movie star’s nails.
Woltz greeted Hagen on a glass-paneled air-conditioned porch. The producer was informally dressed in blue silk shirt open at the neck, mustard-colored slacks, soft leather sandals. Framed in all this color and rich fabric his seamed, tough face was startling. He handed Hagen an outsized martini glass and took one for himself from the prepared tray. He seemed more friendly than he had been earlier in the day. He put his arm over Hagen’s shoulder and said, “We have a little time before dinner, let’s go look at my horses.” As they walked toward the stables he said, “I checked you out, Tom; you should have told me your boss is Corleone. I thought you were just some third-rate hustler Johnny was running in to bluff me. And I don’t bluff. Not that I want to make enemies, I never believed in that. But let’s just enjoy ourselves now. We can talk business after dinner.”
Surprisingly Woltz proved to be a truly considerate host. He explained his new methods, innovations that he hoped would make his stable the most successful in America. The stables were all fire-proofed, sanitized to the highest degree, and guarded by a special security detail of private detectives. Finally Woltz led him to a stall which had a huge bronze plaque attached to its outside wall. On the plaque was the name “Khartoum.”
The horse inside the stall was, even to Hagen’s inexperienced eyes, a beautiful animal. Khartoum’s skin was jet black except for a diamond-shaped white patch on his huge forehead. The great brown eyes glinted like golden apples, the black skin over the taut body was silk. Woltz said with childish pride, “The greatest racehorse in the world. I bought him in England last year for six hundred grand. I bet even the Russian Czars never paid that much for a single horse. But I’m not going to race him, I’m going to put him to stud. I’m going to build the greatest racing stable this country has ever known.” He stroked the horse’s mane and called out softly, “Khartoum, Khartoum.” There was real love in his voice and the animal responded. Woltz said to Hagen, “I’m a good horseman, you know, and the first time I ever rode I was fifty years old.” He laughed. “Maybe one of my grandmothers in Russia got raped by a Cossack and I got his blood.” He tickled Khartoum’s belly and said with sincere admiration, “Look at that cock on him. I should have such a cock.”
They went back to the mansion to have dinner. It was served by three waiters under the command of a butler, the table linen and ware were all gold thread and silver, but Hagen found the food mediocre. Woltz obviously lived alone, and just as obviously was not a man who cared about food. Hagen waited until they had both lit up huge Havana cigars before he asked Woltz, “Does Johnny get it or not?”
“I can’t,” Woltz said. “I can’t put Johnny into that picture even if I wanted to. The contracts are all signed for all the performers and the cameras roll next week. There’s no way I can swing it.”
Hagen said impatiently, “Mr. Woltz, the big advantage of dealing with a man at the top is that such an excuse is not valid. You can do anything you want to do.” He puffed on his cigar. “Don’t you believe my client can keep his promises?”
Woltz said dryly, “I believe that I’m going to have labor trouble. Goff called me up on that, the son of a bitch, and the way he talked to me you’d never guess I pay him a hundred grand a year under the table. And I believe you can get that fag he-man star of mine off heroin. But I don’t care about that and I can finance my own pictures. Because I hate that bastard Fontane. Tell your boss this is one favor I can’t give but that he should try me again on anything else. Anything at all.”
Hagen thought, you sneaky bastard, then why the hell did you bring me all the way out here? The producer had something on his mind. Hagen said coldly, “I don’t think you understand the situation. Mr. Corleone is Johnny Fontane’s godfather. That is a very close, a very sacred religious relationship.” Woltz bowed his head in respect at this reference to religion. Hagen went on. “Italians have a little joke, that the world is so hard a man must have two fathers to look after him, and that’s why they have godfathers. Since Johnny’s father died, Mr. Corleone feels his responsibility even more deeply. As for trying you again, Mr. Corleone is much too sensitive. He never asks a second favor where he has been refused the first.”
Woltz shrugged. “I’m sorry. The answer is still no. But since you’re here, what will it cost me to have that labor trouble cleared up? In cash. Right now.”
That solved one puzzle for Hagen. Why Woltz was putting in so much time on him when he had already decided not to give Johnny the part. And that could not be changed at this meeting. Woltz felt secure; he was not afraid of the power of Don Corleone. And certainly Woltz with his national political connections, his acquaintanceship with the FBI chief, his huge personal fortune and his absolute power in the film industry, could not feel threatened by Don Corleone. To any intelligent man, even to Hagen, it seemed that Woltz had correctly assessed his position. He was impregnable to the Don if he was willing to take the losses the labor struggle would cost. There was only one thing wrong with the whole equation. Don Corleone had promised his godson he would get the part and Don Corleone had never, to Hagen’s knowledge, broken his word in such matters.
Hagen said quietly, “You are deliberately misunderstanding me. You are trying to make me an accomplice to extortion. Mr. Corleone promises only to speak in your favor on this labor trouble as a matter of friendship in return for your speaking in behalf of his client. A friendly exchange of influence, nothing more. But I can see you don’t take me seriously. Personally, I think that is a mistake.”
Woltz, as if he had been waiting for such a moment, let himself get angry. “I understood perfectly,” he said. “That’s the Mafia style, isn’t is? All olive oil and sweet talk when what you’re really doing is making threats. So let me lay it on the line. Johnny Fonfane will never get that part and he’s perfect for it. It would make him a great star. But he never will be because I hate that pinko punk and I’m going to run him out of the movies. And I’ll tell you why. He ruined one of my most valuable protegees. For five years I had this girl under training, singing, dancing, acting lessons, I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. I was going to make her a star. I’ll be even more frank, just to show you that I’m not a hard-hearted man, that it wasn’t all dollars and cents. That girl was beautiful and she was the greatest piece of ass I’ve ever had and I’ve had them all over the world. She could suck you out like a water pump. Then Johnny comes along with that olive-oil voice and guinea charm and she runs off. She threw it all away just to make me ridiculous. A man in my position, Mr. Hagen, can’t afford to look ridiculous. I have to pay Johnny off.”
For the first time, Woltz succeeded in astounding Hagen. He found it inconceivable that a grown man of substance would let such trivialities affect his judgment in an affair of business, and one of such importance. In Hagen’s world, the Corleones’ world, the physical beauty, the sexual power of women, carried not the slightest weight in worldly matters. It was a private affair, except, of course, in matters of marriage and family disgrace. Hagen decided to make one last try.
“You are absolutely right, Mr. Woltz,” Hagen said. “But are your grievances that major? I don’t think you’ve understood how important this very small favor is to my client. Mr. Corleone held the infant Johnny in his arms when he was baptized. When Johnny’s father died, Mr. Corleone assumed the duties of parenthood, indeed he is called ‘Godfather’ by many, many people who wish to show their respect and gratitude for the help he has given them. Mr. Corleone never lets his friends down.”
Woltz stood up abruptly. “I’ve listened to about enough. Thugs don’t give me orders, I give them orders. If I pick up this phone, you’ll spend the night in jail. And if that Mafia goombah tries any rough stuff, he’ll find out I’m not a band leader. Yeah, I heard that story too. Listen, your Mr. Corleone will never know what hit him. Even if I have to use my influence at the White House.”
The stupid, stupid son of a bitch. How the hell did he get to be a pezzonovante, Hagen wondered. Advisor to the President, head of the biggest movie studio in the world. Definitely the Don should get into the movie business. And the guy was taking his words at their sentimental face value. He was not getting the message.
“Thank you for the dinner and a pleasant evening,” Hagen said. “Could you give me transportation to the airport? I don’t think I’ll spend the night.” He smiled coldly at Woltz. “Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news at once.”
While waiting in the floodlit colonnade of the mansion for his car, Hagen saw two women about to enter a long limousine already parked in the driveway. They were the beautiful twelve-year-old blond girl and her mother he had seen in Woltz’s office that morning. But now the girl’s exquisitely cut mouth seemed to have smeared into a thick, pink mass. Her sea-blue eyes were filmed over and when she walked down the steps toward the open car her long legs tottered like a crippled foal’s. Her mother supported the child, helping her into the car, hissing commands into her ear. The mother’s head turned for a quick furtive look at Hagen and he saw in her eyes a burning, hawklike triumph. Then she too disappeared into the limousine.
So that was why he hadn’t got the plane ride from Los Angeles, Hagen thought. The girl and her mother had made the trip with the movie producer. That had given Woltz enough time to relax before dinner and do the job on the little kid. And Johnny wanted to live in this world? Good luck to him, and good luck to Woltz.
* * *
Paulie Gatto hated quickie jobs, especially when they involved violence. He liked to plan things ahead. And something like tonight, even though it was punk stuff, could turn into serious business if somebody made a mistake. Now, sipping his beer, he glanced around, checking how the two young punks were making out with the two little tramps at the bar.
Paulie Gatto knew everything there was to know about those two punks. Their names were Jerry Wagner and Kevin Moonan. They were both about twenty years old, goodlooking, brown-haired, tall, well-built. Both were due to go back to college out of town in two weeks, both had fathers with political influence and this, with their college student classification, had so far kept them out of the draft. They were both also under suspended sentences for assaulting the daughter of Amerigo Bonasera. The lousy bastards, Paulie Gatto thought. Draft dodging, violating their probation by drinking in a bar after midnight, chasing floozies. Young punks. Paulie Gatto had been deferred from the draft himself because his doctor had furnished the draft board with documents showing that this patient, male, white, aged twenty-six, unmarried, had received electrical shock treatments for a mental condition. All false, of course, but Paulie Gatto felt that he had earned his draft exemption. It had been arranged by Clemenza after Gatto had “made his bones” in the family business.
It was Clemenza who had told him that this job must be rushed through, before the boys went to college. Why the hell did it have to be done in New York, Gatto wondered. Clemenza was always giving extra orders instead of just giving out the job. Now if those two little tramps walked out with the punks it would be another night wasted.
He could hear one of the girls laughing and saying, “Are you crazy, Jerry? I’m not going in any car with you. I don’t want to wind up in the hospital like that other poor girl.” Her voice was spitefully rich with satisfaction. That was enough for Gatto. He finished up his beer and walked out into the dark street. Perfect. It was after midnight. There was only one other bar that showed light. The rest of the stores were closed. The precinct patrol car had been taken care of by Clemenza. They wouldn’t be around that way until they got a radio call and then they’d come slow.
He leaned against the four-door Chevy sedan. In the back seat two men were sitting, almost invisible, although they were very big men. Paulie said, “Take them when they come out.”
He still thought it had all been set up too fast. Clemenza had given him copies of the police mug shots of the two punks, the dope on where the punks went drinking every night to pick up bar girls. Paulie had recruited two of the strong-arms in the family and fingered the punks for them. He had also given them their instructions. No blows on the top or the back of the head, there was to be no accidental fatality. Other than that they could go as far as they liked. He had given them only one warning: “If those punks get out of the hospital in less than a month, you guys go back to driving trucks.”
The two big men were getting out of the car. They were both ex-boxers who had never made it past the small clubs and had been fixed up by Sonny Corleone with a little loan-shark action so that they could make a decent living. They were, naturally, anxious to show their gratitude.
When Jerry Wagner and Kevin Moonan came out of the bar they were perfect setups. The bar girl’s taunts had left their adolescent vanity prickly. Paulie Gatto, leaning against the fender of his car, called out to them with a teasing laugh, “Hey, Casanova, those broads really brushed you off.”
The two young men turned on him with delight. Paulie Gatto looked like a perfect outlet for their humiliation. Ferret-faced, short, slightly built and a wise guy in the bargain. They pounced on him eagerly and immediately found their arms pinned by two men grabbing them from behind. At the same moment Paulie Gatto had slipped onto his right hand a specially made set of brass knuckles studded with one-sixteenth-inch iron spikes. His timing was good, he worked out in the gym three times a week. He smashed the punk named Wagner right on the nose. The man holding Wagner lifted him up off the ground and Paulie swung his arm, uppercutting into the perfectly positioned groin. Wagner went limp and the big man dropped him. This had taken no more than six seconds.
Now both of them turned their attention to Kevin Moonan, who was trying to shout. The man holding him from behind did so easily with one huge muscled arm. The other hand he put around Moonan’s throat to cut off any sound.
Paulie Gatto jumped into the car and started the motor. The two big men were beating Moonan to jelly. They did so with frightening deliberation, as if they had all the time in the world. They did not throw punches in flurries but in timed, slow-motion sequences that carried the full weight of their massive bodies. Each blow landed with a splat of flesh splitting open. Gatto got a glimpse of Moonan’s face. It was unrecognizable. The two men left Moonan lying on the sidewalk and turned their attention to Wagner. Wagner was trying to get to his feet and he started to scream for help. Someone came out of the bar and the two men had to work faster now. They clubbed Wagner to his knees. One of the men took his arm and twisted it, then kicked him in the spine. There was a cracking sound and Wagner’s scream of agony brought windows open all along the street. The two men worked very quickly. One of them held Wagner up by using his two hands around Wagner’s head like a vise. The other man smashed his huge fist into the fixed target. There were more people coming out of the bar but none tried to interfere. Paulie Gatto yelled, “Come on, enough.” The two big men jumped into the car and Paulie gunned it away, Somebody would describe the car and read the license plates but it didn’t matter. It was a stolen California plate and there were one hundred thousand black Chevy sedans in New York City.