Tom Hagen went to his law office in the city on Thursday morning. He planned to catch up on his paper work so as to have everything cleared away for the meeting with Virgil Sollozzo on Friday. A meeting of such importance that he had asked the Don for a full evening of talk to prepare for the proposition they knew Sollozzo would offer the family business. Hagen wanted to have all little details cleared away so that he could go to that preparatory meeting with an unencumbered mind.
The Don had not seemed surprised when Hagen returned from California late Tuesday evening and told him the results of the negotiations with Woltz. He had made Hagen go over every detail and grimaced with distaste when Hagen told about the beautiful little girl and her mother. He had murmured “infamita,” his strongest disapproval. He had asked Hagen one final question. “Does this man have real balls?”
Hagen considered exactly what the Don meant by this question. Over the years he had learned that the Don’s values were so different from those of most people that his words also could have a different meaning. Did Woltz have character? Did he have a strong will? He most certainly did, but that was not what the Don was asking. Did the movie producer have the courage not to be bluffed? Did he have the willingness to suffer heavy financial loss delay on his movies would mean, the scandal of his big star exposed as a user of heroin? Again the answer was yes. But again this was not what the Don meant. Finally Hagen translated the question properly in his mind. Did Jack Woltz have the balls to risk everything, to run the chance of losing all on a matter of principle, on a matter of honor; for revenge?
Hagen smiled. He did it rarely but now he could not resist jesting with the Don. “You’re asking if he is a Sicilian.” The Don nodded his head pleasantly, acknowledging the flattering witticism and its truth. “No,” Hagen said.
That had been all. The Don had pondered the question until the next day. On Wednesday afternoon he had called Hagen to his home and given him his instructions. The instructions had consumed the rest of Hagen’s working day and left him dazed with admiration. There was no question in his mind that the Don had solved the problem, that Woltz would call him this morning with the news that Johnny Fontane had the starring part in his new war movie.
At that moment the phone did ring but it was Amerigo Bonasera. The undertaker’s voice was trembling with gratitude. He wanted Hagen to convey to the Don his undying friendship. The Don had only to call on him. He, Amerigo Bonasera, would lay down his life for the blessed Godfather. Hagen assured him that the Don would be told.
The Daily News had carried a middle-page spread of Jerry Wagner and Kevin Moonan lying in the street. The photos were expertly gruesome, they seemed to be pulps of human beings. Miraculously, said the News, they were both still alive though they would both be in the hospital for months and would require plastic surgery. Hagen made a note to tell Clemenza that something should be done for Paulie Gatto. He seemed to know his job.
Hagen worked quickly and efficiently for the next three hours consolidating earning reports from the Don’s real estate company, his olive oil importing business and his construction firm. None of them were doing well but with the war over they should all become rich producers. He had almost forgotten the Johnny Fontane problem when his secretary told him California was calling. He felt a little thrill of anticipation as he picked up the phone and said, “Hagen here.”
The voice that came over the phone was unrecognizable with hate and passion. “You fucking bastard,” Woltz screamed. “I’ll have you all in jail for a hundred years. I’ll spend every penny I have to get you. I’ll get that Johnny Fontane’s balls cut off, do you hear me, you guinea fuck?”
Hagen said kindly, “I’m German-Irish.” There was a long pause and then a click of the phone being hung up. Hagen smiled. Not once had Woltz uttered a threat against Don Corleone himself. Genius had its rewards.
* * *
Jack Woltz always slept alone. He had a bed big enough for ten people and a bedroom large enough for a movie ballroom scene, but he had slept alone since the death of his first wife ten years before. This did not mean he no longer used women. He was physically a vigorous man despite his age, but he could be aroused now only by very young girls and had learned that a few hours in the evening were all the youth his body and his patience could tolerate.
On this Thursday morning, for some reason, he awoke early. The light of dawn made his huge bedroom as misty as a foggy meadowland. Far down at the foot of his bed was a familiar shape and Woltz struggled up on his elbows to get a clearer look. It had the shape of a horse’s head. Still groggy, Woltz reached and flicked on the night table lamp.
The shock of what he saw made him physically ill. It seemed as if a great sledgehammer had struck him on the chest, his heartbeat jumped erratically and he became nauseous. His vomit spluttered on the thick bear rug.
Severed from its body, the black silky head of the great horse Khartoum was stuck fast in a thick cake of blood. White, reedy tendons showed. Froth covered the muzzle and those apple-sized eyes that had glinted like gold, were mottled the color of rotting fruit with dead, hemorrhaged blood. Woltz was struck by a purely animal terror and out of that terror he screamed for his servants and out of that terror he called Hagen to make his uncontrolled threats. His maniacal raving alarmed the butler, who called Woltz’s personal physician and his second in command at the studio. But Woltz regained his senses before they arrived.
He had been profoundly shocked. What kind of man could destroy an animal worth six hundred thousand dollars? Without a word of warning. Without any negotiation to have the act, its order, countermanded. The ruthlessness, the sheer disregard for any values, implied a man who considered himself completely his own law, even his own God. And a man who backed up this kind of will with the power and cunning that held his own stable security force of no account. For by this time Woltz had learned that the horse’s body had obviously been heavily drugged before someone leisurely hacked the huge triangular head off with an ax. The men on night duty claimed that they had heard nothing. To Woltz this seemed impossible. They could be made to talk. They had been bought off and they could be made to tell who had done the buying.
Woltz was not a stupid man, be was merely a supremely egotistical one. He had mistaken the power he wielded in his world to be more potent than the power of Don Corleone. He had merely needed some proof that this was not true. He understood this message. That despite all his wealth, despite all his contacts with the President of the United States, despite all his claims of friendship with the director of the FBI, an obscure importer of Italian olive oil would have him killed. Would actually have him killed! Because he wouldn’t give Johnny Fontane a movie part he wanted. It was incredible. People didn’t have any right to act that way. There couldn’t be any kind of world if people acted that way. It was insane. It meant you couldn’t do what you wanted with your own money, with the companies you owned, the power you had to give orders. It was ten times worse than communism. It had to be smashed. It must never be allowed.
Woltz let the doctor give him a very mild sedation. It helped him calm down again and to think sensibly. What really shocked him was the casualness with which this man Corleone had ordered the destruction of a world-famous horse worth six hundred thousand dollars. Six hundred thousand dollars! And that was just for openers. Woltz shuddered. He thought of this life he had built up. He was rich. He could have the most beautiful women in the world by cooking his finger and promising a contract. He was received by kings and queens. He lived a life as perfect as money and power could make it. It was crazy to risk all this because of a whim. Maybe he could get to Corleone. What was the legal penalty for killing a racehorse? He laughed wildly and his doctor and servants watched him with nervous anxiety. Another thought occurred to him. He would be the laughingstock of California merely because someone had contemptuously defied his power in such arrogant fashion. That decided him. That and the thought that maybe, maybe they wouldn’t kill him. That they had something much more clever and painful in reserve.
Woltz gave the necessary orders. His personal confidential staff swung into action. The servants and the doctor were sworn to secrecy on pain of incurring the studio’s and Woltz’s undying enmity. Word was given to the press that the racehorse Khartoum had died of an illness contracted during his shipment from England. Orders were given to bury the remains in a secret place on the estate.
Six hours later Johnny Fontane received a phone call from the executive producer of the film telling him to report for work the following Monday.
* * *
That evening, Hagen went to the Don’s house to prepare him for the important meeting the next day with Virgil Sollozzo. The Don had summoned his eldest son to attend, and Sonny Corleone, his heavy Cupid-shaped face drawn with fatigue, was sipping at a glass of water. He must still be humping that maid of honor, Hagen thought. Another worry.
Don Corleone settled into an armchair puffing his Di Nobili cigar. Hagen kept a box of them in his room. He had tried to get the Don to switch to Havanas but the Don claimed they hurt his throat.
“Do we know everything necessary for us to know?” the Don asked.
Hagen opened the folder that held his notes. The notes were in no way incriminating, merely cryptic reminders to make sure he touched on every important detail. “Sollozzo is coming to us for help,” Hagen said. “He will ask the family to put up at least a million dollars and to promise some sort of immunity from the law. For that we get a piece of the action, nobody knows how much. Sollozzo is vouched for by the Tattaglia family and they may have a piece of the action. The action is narcotics. Sollozzo has the contacts in Turkey, where they grow the poppy. From there he ships to Sicily. No trouble. In Sicily he has the plant to process into heroin. He has safety-valve operations to bring it down to morphine and bring it up to heroin if necessary. But it would seem that the processing plant in Sicily is protected in every way. The only hitch is bringing it into this country, and then distribution. Also initial capital. A million dollars cash doesn’t grow on trees.” Hagen saw Don Corleone grimace.The old man hated unnecessary flourishes in business matters. He went on hastily.
“They call Sollozzo the Turk. Two reasons. He’s spent a lot of time in Turkey and is supposed to have a Turkish wife and kids. Second. He’s supposed to be very quick with the knife, or was, when he was young. Only in matters of business, though, and with some sort of reasonable complaint. A very competent man and his own boss. He has a record, he’s done two terms in prison, one in Italy, one in the United States, and he’s known to the authorities as a narcotics man. This could be a plus for us. It means that he’ll never get immunity to testify, since he’s considered the top and, of course, because of his record. Also he has an American wife and three children and he is a good family man. He’ll stand still for any rap as long as he knows that they will be well taken care of for living money.”
The Don puffed on his cigar and said, “Santino, what do you think?”
Hagen knew what Sonny would say. Sonny was chafing at being under the Don’s thumb. He wanted a big operation of his own. Something like this would be perfect.
Sonny took a long slug of scotch. “There’s a lot of money it that white powder,” he said. “But it could be dangerous. Some people could wind up in jail for twenty years. I’d say that if we kept out of the operations end, just stuck to protection and financing, it might be a good idea.”
Hagen looked at Sonny approvingly. He had played his cards well. He had stuck to the obvious, much the best course for him.
The Don puffed on his cigar. “And you, Tom, what do you think?”
Hagen composed himself to be absolutely honest. He had already come to the conclusion that the Don would refuse Sollozzo’s proposition. But what was worse, Hagen was convinced that for one of the few times in his experience, the Don had not thought things through. He was not looking far enough ahead.
“Go ahead, Tom,” the Don said encouragingly. “Not even a Sicilian Consigliere always agrees with the boss.” They all laughed.
“I think you should say yes,” Hagen said. “You know all the obvious reasons. But the most important one is this. There is more money potential in narcotics than in any other business. If we don’t get into it, somebody else will, maybe the Tattaglia family. With the revenue they earn they can amass more and more police and political power. Their family will become stronger than ours. Eventually they will come after us to take away what we have. It’s just like countries. If they arm, we have to arm. If they become stronger economically, they become a threat to us. Now we have the gambling and we have the unions and right now they are the best things to have. But I think narcotics is the coming thing. I think we have to have a piece of that action or we risk everything we have. Not now, but maybe ten years from now.”
The Don seemed enormously impressed. He puffed on his cigar and murmured, “That’s the most important thing of course.” He sighed and got to his feet. “What time do I have to meet this infidel tomorrow?”
Hagen said hopefully, “He’ll be here at ten in the morning.” Maybe the Don would go for it.
“I’ll want you both here with me,” the Don said. He rose, stretching, and took his son by the arm. “Santino, get some sleep tonight, you look like the devil himself. Take care of yourself, you won’t be young forever.”
Sonny, encouraged by this sign of fatherly concern, asked the question Hagen did not dare to ask. “Pop, what’s your answer going to be?”
Don Corleone smiled. “How do I know until I hear the percentages and other details? Besides I have to have time to think over the advice given here tonight. After all, I’m not a man who does things rashly.” As he went out the door he said casually to Hagen, “Do you have in your notes that the Turk made his living from prostitution before the war? As the Tattaglia family does now. Write that down before you forget.” There was just a touch of derision in the Don’s voice and Hagen flushed. He had deliberately not mentioned it, legitimately so since it really had no bearing, but he had feared it might prejudice the Don’s decision. He was notoriously straitlaced in matters of sex.
* * *
Virgil “the Turk” Sollozzo was a powerfully built, medium-sized man of dark complexion who could have been taken for a true Turk. He had a scimitar of a nose and cruel black eyes. He also had an impressive dignity.
Sonny Corleone met him at the door and brought him into the office where Hagen and the Don waited. Hagen thought he had never seen a more dangerous-looking man except for Luca Brasi.
There were polite handshakings all around. If the Don ever asks me if this man has balls, I would have to answer yes, Hagen thought. He had never seen such force in one man, not even the Don. In fact the Don appeared at his worst. He was being a little too simple, a little too peasantlike in his greeting.
Sollozzo came to the point immediately. The business was narcotic. Everything was set up. Certain poppy fields in Turkey had pledged him certain amounts every year. He had a protected plant in France to convert into morphine. He had an absolutely secure plant in Sicily to process into heroin. Smuggling into both countries was as positively safe as such matters could be. Entry into the United States would entail about five percent losses since the FBI itself was incorruptible, as they both knew. But the profits would be enormous, the risk nonexistent.
“Then why do you come to me?” the Don asked politely. “How have I deserved your generosity?”
Sollozzo’s dark face remained impassive. “I need two million dollars cash,” he said. “Equally important, I need a man who has powerful friends in the important places. Some of my couriers will be caught over the years. That is inevitable. They will all have clean records, that I promise. So it will be logical for judges to give light sentences. I need a friend who can guarantee that when my people get in trouble they won’t spend more than a year or two in jail. Then they won’t talk. But if they get ten and twenty years, who knows? In this world there are many weak individuals. They may talk, they may jeopardize more important people. Legal protection is a must. I hear, Don Corleone, that you have as many judges in your pocket as a bootblack has pieces of silver.”
Don Corleone didn’t bother to acknowledge the compliment. “What percentage for my family?” he asked.
Sollozzo’s eyes gleamed. “Fifty percent.” He paused and then said in a voice that was almost a caress, “In the first year your share would be three or four million dollars. Then it would go up.”
Don Corleone said, “And what is the percentage of the Tattaglia family?”
For the first time Sollozzo seemed to be nervous. “They will receive something from my share. I need some help in the operations.”
“So,” Don Corleone said, “I receive fifty percent merely for finance and legal protection. I have no worries about operations, is that what you tell me?”
Sollozzo nodded. “If you think two million dollars in cash is ‘merely finance,’ I congratulate you, Don Corleone.”
The Don said quietly, “I consented to see you out of my respect for the Tattaglias and because I’ve heard you are a serious man to be treated also with respect. I must say no to you but I must give you my reasons. The profits in your business are huge but so are the risks. Your operation, if I were part of it, could damage my other interests. It’s true I have many, many friends in politics, but they would not be so friendly if my business were narcotics instead of gambling. They think gambling is something like liquor, a harmless vice, and they think narcotics a dirty business. No, don’t protest. I’m telling you their thoughts, not mine. How a man makes his living is not my concern. And what I am telling you is that this business of yours is too risky. All the members of my family have lived well the last ten years, without danger, without harm. I can’t endanger them or their livelihoods out of greed.”
The only sign of Sollozzo’s disappointment was a quick flickering of his eyes around the room, as if he hoped Hagen or Sonny would speak in his support. Then he said, “Are you worried about security for your two million?”
The Don smiled coldly. “No,” he said.
Sollozzo tried again. “The Tattaglia family will guarantee your investment also.”
It was then that Sonny Corleone made an unforgivable error in judgment and procedure. He said eagerly, “The Tattaglia family guarantees the return of our investment without any percentage from us?”
Hagen was horrified at this break. He saw the Don turn cold, malevolent eyes on his eldest son, who froze in uncomprehending dismay. Sollozzo’s eyes flickered again but this time with satisfaction. He had discovered a chink in the Don’s fortress. When the Don spoke his voice held a dismissal. “Young people are greedy,” he said. “And today they have no manners. They interrupt their elders. They meddle. But I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I have spoiled them. As you see. Signor Sollozzo, my no is final. Let me say that I myself wish you good fortune in your business. It has no conflict with my own. I’m sorry that I had to disappoint you.”
Sollozzo bowed, shook the Don’s hand and let Hagen take him to his car outside. There was no expression on his face when he said good-bye to Hagen.
Back in the room, Don Corleone asked Hagen, “What did you think of that man?”
“He’s a Sicilian,” Hagen said dryly.
The Don nodded his head thoughtfully. Then he turned to his son and said gently, “Santino, never let anyone outside the family know what you are thinking. Never let them know what you have under your fingernails. I think your brain is going soft from all that comedy you play with that young girl. Stop it and pay attention to business. Now get out of my sight.”
Hagen saw the surprise on Sonny’s face, then anger at his father’s reproach. Did he really think the Don would be ignorant of his conquest, Hagen wondered. And did he really not know what a dangerous mistake he had made this morning? If that were true, Hagen would never wish to be the Consigliere to the Don of Santino Corleone.
Don Corleone waited until Sonny had left the room. Then he sank back into his leather armchair and motioned brusquely for a drink. Hagen poured him a glass of anisette. The Don looked up at him. “Send Luca Brasi to see me,” he said.
* * *
Three months later, Hagen hurried through the paper work in his city office hoping to leave early enough for some Christmas shopping for his wife and children. He was interrupted by a phone call from a Johnny Fontane bubbling with high spirits. The picture had been shot, the rushes, whatever the hell they were, Hagen thought, were fabulous. He was sending the Don a present for Christmas that would knock his eyes out, he’d bring it himself but there were some little things to be done in the movie. He would have to stay out on the Coast. Hagen tried to conceal his impatience. Johnny Fontane’s charm had always been lost on him. But his interest was aroused. “What is it?” he asked. Johnny Fontane chuckled and said, “I can’t tell, that’s the best part of a Christmas present.” Hagen immediately lost all interest and finally managed, politely, to hang up.
Ten minutes later his secretary told him that Connie Corleone was on the phone and wanted to speak to him. Hagen sighed. As a young girl Connie had been nice, as a married woman she was a nuisance. She made complaints about her husband. She kept going home to visit her mother for two or three days. And Carlo Rizzi was turning out to be a real loser. He had been fixed up with a nice little business and was running it into the ground. He was also drinking, whoring around, gambling and beating his wife up occasionally. Connie hadn’t told her family about that but she had told Hagen. He wondered what new tale of woe she had for him now.
But the Christmas spirit seemed to have cheered her up. She just wanted to ask Hagen what her father would really like for Christmas. And Sonny and Fred and Mike. She already knew what she would get her mother. Hagen made some suggestions, all of which she rejected as silly. Finally she let him go.
When the phone rang again, Hagen threw his papers back into the basket. The hell with it. He’d leave. It never occurred to him to refuse to take the call, however. When his secretary told him it was Michael Corieone he picked up the phone with pleasure. He had always liked Mike.
“Tom,” Michael Corleone said, “I’m driving down to the city with Kay tomorrow. There’s something important I want to tell the old man before Christmas. Will he be home tomorrow night?”
“Sure,” Hagen said. “He’s not going out of town until after Christmas. Anything I can do for you?”
Michael was as closemouthed as his father. “No,” he said. “I guess I’ll see you Christmas, everybody is going to be out at Long Beach, right?”
“Right,” Hagen said. He was amused when Mike hung up on him without any small talk.
He told his secretary to call his wife and tell her he would be home a little late but to have some supper for him. Outside the building he walked briskly downtown toward Macy’s. Someone stepped in his way. To his surprise he saw it was Sollozzo.
Sollozzo took him by the arm and said quietly, “Don’t be frightened. I just want to talk to you.” A car parked at the curb suddenly had its door open. Sollozzo said urgently, “Get in, I want to talk to you.”.
Hagen pulled his arm loose. He was still not alarmed, just irritated. “I haven’t got time,” he said. At that moment two men came up behind him. Hagen felt a sudden weakness in his legs. Sollozzo said softly, “Get in the car. If I wanted to kill you you’d be dead now. Trust me.”
Without a shred of trust Hagen got into the car.
* * *
Michael Corleone had lied to Hagen. He was already in New York, and he had called from a room in the Hotel Pennsylvania less than ten blocks away. When he hung up the phone, Kay Adams put out her cigarette and said, “Mike, what a good fibber you are.”
Michael sat down beside her on the bed. “All for you, honey; if I told my family we were in town we’d have to go there right away. Then we couldn’t go out to dinner, we couldn’t go to the theater, and we couldn’t sleep together tonight. Not in my father’s house, not when we’re not married.” He put his arms around her and kissed her gently on the lips. Her mouth was sweet and he gently pulled her down on the bed. She closed her eyes, waiting for him to make love to her and Michael felt an enormous happiness. He had spent the war years fighting in the Pacific, and on those bloody islands he had dreamed of a girl like Kay Adams. Of a beauty like hers. A fair and fragile body, milky-skinned and electrified by passion. She opened her eyes and then pulled his head down to kiss him. They made love until it was time for dinner and the theater.
After dinner they walked past the brightly lit department stores full of holiday shoppers and Michael said to her, “What shall I get you for Christmas?”
She pressed against him. “Just you,” she said. “Do you think your father will approve of me?”
Michael said gently, “That’s not really the question. Will your parents approve of me?”
Kay shrugged. “I don’t care,” she said.
Michael said, “I even thought of changing my name, legally, but if something happened, that wouldn’t really help. You sure you want to be a Corleone?” He said it only half-jokingly.
“Yes,” she said without smiling. They pressed against each other. They had decided to get married during Christmas week, a quiet civil ceremony at City Hall with just two friends as witnesses. But Michael had insisted he must tell his father. He had explained that his father would not object in any way as long as it was not done in secrecy. Kay was doubtful. She said she could not tell her parents until after the marriage. “Of course they’ll think I’m pregnant,” she said. Michael grinned. “So will my parents,” he said.
What neither of them mentioned was the fact that Michael would have to cut his close ties with his family. They both understood that Michael had already done so to some extent and yet they both felt guilty about this fact. They planned to finish college, seeing each other weekends and living together during summer vacations. It seemed like a happy life.
The play was a musical called Carousel and its sentimental story of a braggart thief made them smile at each other with amusement. When they came out of the theater it had turned cold. Kay snuggled up to him and said, “After we’re married, will you beat me and then steal a star for a present?”
Michael laughed. “I’m going to be a mathematics professor,” he said. Then he asked, “Do you want something to eat before we go to the hotel?”
Kay shook her head. She looked up at him meaningfully. As always he was touched by her eagerness to make love. He smiled down at her, and they kissed in the cold street. Michael felt hungry, and he decided to order sandwiches sent up to the room.
In the hotel lobby Michael pushed Kay toward the newsstand and said, “Get the papers while I get the key.” He had to wait in a small line; the hotel was still short of help despite the end of the war. Michael got his room key and looked around impatiently for Kay. She was standing by the newsstand, staring down at a newspaper she held in her hand. He walked toward her. She looked up at him. Her eyes were filled with tears. “Oh, Mike,” she said, “oh, Mike.” He took the paper from her hands. The first thing he saw was a photo of his father lying in the street, his head in a pool of blood. A man was sitting on the curb weeping like a child. It was his brother Freddie. Michael Corleone felt his body turning to ice. There was no grief, no fear, just cold rage. He said to Kay, “Go up to the room.” But he had to take her by the arm and lead her into the elevator. They rode up together in silence. In their room, Michael sat down on the bed and opened the paper. The headlines said, VITO CORLEONE SHOT. ALLEGED RACKET CHIEF CRITICALLY WOUNDED. OPERATED ON UNDER HEAVY POLICE GUARD. BLOODY MOB WAR FEARED.
Michael felt the weakness in his legs. He said to Kay, “He’s not dead, the bastards didn’t kill him.” He read the story again. His father had been shot at five in the afternoon. That meant that while he had been making love to Kay, having dinner, enjoying the theater, his father was near death. Michael felt sick with guilt.
Kay said, “Shall we go down to the hospital now?”
Michael shook his head. “Let me call the house first. The people who did this are crazy and now that the old man’s still alive they’ll be desperate. Who the hell knows what they’ll pull next.”
Both phones in the Long Beach house were busy and it was almost twenty minutes before Michael could get through. He heard Sonny’s voice saying, “Yeah.”
“Sonny, it’s me,” Michael said.
He could hear the relief in Sonny’s voice. “Jesus, kid, you had us worried. Where the hell are you? I’ve sent people to that hick town of yours to see what happened.”
“How’s the old man?” Michael said. “How bad is he hurt?”
“Pretty bad,” Sonny said. “They shot him five times. But he’s tough.” Sonny’s voice was proud. “The doctors said he’ll pull through. Listen, kid, I’m busy, I can’t talk, where are you?”
“In New York,” Michael said. “Didn’t Tom tell you I was coming down?”
Sonny’s voice dropped a little. “They’ve snatched Tom. That’s why I was worried about you. His wife is here. She don’t know and neither do the cops. I don’t want them to know. The bastards who pulled this must be crazy. I want you to get out here right away and keep your mouth shut. OK?”
“OK,” Mike said, “do you know who did it?”
“Sure,” Sonny said. “And as soon as Luca Brasi checks in they’re gonna be dead meat. We still have all the horses.”
“I’ll be out in a hour,” Mike said. “In a cab.” He hung up. The papers had been on the streets for over three hours. There must have been radio news reports. It was almost impossible that Luca hadn’t heard the news. Thoughtfully Michael pondered the question. Where was Luca Brasi? It was the same question that Hagen was asking himself at that moment. It was the same question that was worrying Sonny Corleone out in Long Beach.
* * *
At a quarter to five that afternoon, Don Corleone had finished checking the papers the office manager of his olive oil company had prepared for him. He put on his jacket and rapped his knuckles on his son Freddie’s head to make him take his nose out of the afternoon newspaper. “Tell Gatto to get the car from the lot,” he said. “I’ll be ready to go home in a few minutes.”
Freddie grunted. “I’ll have to get it myself. Paulie called in sick this morning. Got a cold again.”
Don Corleone looked thoughtful for a moment. “That’s the third time this month. I think maybe you’d better get a healthier fellow for this job. Tell Tom.”
Fred protested. “Paulie’s a good kid. If he says he’s sick, he’s sick. I don’t mind getting the car.” He left the office. Don Corleone watched out the window as his son crossed Ninth Avenue to the parking lot. He stopped to call Hagen’s office but there was no answer. He called the house at Long Beach but again there was no answer. Irritated, he looked out the window. His car was parked at the curb in front of his building. Freddie was leaning against the fender, arms folded, watching the throng of Christmas shoppers. Don Corleone put on his jacket. The office manager helped him with his overcoat. Don Corleone grunted his thanks and went out the door and started down the two flights of steps.
Out in the street the early winter light was failing. Freddie leaned casually against the fender of the heavy Buick. When he saw his father come out of the building Freddie went out into the street to the driver’s side of the car and got in. Don Corleone was about to get in on the sidewalk side of the car when he hesitated and then turned back to the long open fruit stand near the corner. This had been his habit lately, he loved the big out-of-season fruits, yellow peaches and oranges, that glowed in their green boxes. The proprietor sprang to serve him. Don Corleone did not handle the fruit. He pointed. The fruit man disputed his decisions only once, to show him that one of his choices had a rotten underside. Don Corleone took the paper bag in his left hand and paid the man with a five-dollar bill. He took his change and, as he turned to go back to the waiting car, two men stepped from around the corner. Don Corleone knew immediately what was to happen.
The two men wore black overcoats and black hats pulled low to prevent identification by witnesses. They had not expected Don Corleone’s alert reaction. He dropped the bag of fruit and darted toward the parked car with startling quickness for a man of his bulk. At the same time he shouted, “Fredo, Fredo.” It was only then that the two men drew their guns and fired.
The first bullet caught Don Corleone in the back. He felt the hammer shock of its impact but made his body move toward the car. The next two bullets hit him in the buttocks and sent him sprawling in the middle of the street. Meanwhile the two gunmen, careful not to slip on the rolling fruit, started to follow in order to finish him off. At that moment, perhaps no more than five seconds after the Don’s call to his son, Frederico Corleone appeared out of his car, looming over it. The gunmen fired two more hasty shots at the Don lying in the gutter. One hit him in the fleshy part of his arm and the second hit him in the calf of his right leg. Though these wounds were the least serious they bled profusely, forming small pools of blood beside his body. But by this time Don Corleone had lost consciousness.
Freddie had heard his father shout, calling him by his childhood name, and then he had heard the first two loud reports. By the time he got out of the car he was in shock, he had not even drawn his gun. The two assassins could easily have shot him down. But they too panicked. They must have known the son was armed, and besides too much time had passed. They disappeared around the corner, leaving Freddie alone in the street with his father’s bleeding body. Many of the people thronging the avenue had flung themselves into doorways or on the ground, others had huddled together in small groups.
Freddie still had not drawn his weapon. He seemed stunned. He stared down at his father’s body lying face down on the tarred street, lying now in what seemed to him a blackish lake of blood. Freddie went into physical shock. People eddied out again and someone, seeing him start to sag, led him to the curbstone and made him sit down on it. A crowd gathered around Don Corleone’s body, a circle that shattered when the first police car sirened a path through them. Directly behind the police was the Daily News radio car and even before it stopped a photographer jumped out to snap pictures of the bleeding Don Corleone. A few moments later an ambulance arrived. The photographer turned his attention to Freddie Corleone, who was now weeping openly, and this was a curiously comical sight, because of his tough, Cupid-featured face, heavy nose and thick mouth smeared with snot. Detectives were spreading through the crowd and more police cars were coming up. One detective knelt beside Freddie, questioning him, but Freddie was too deep in shock to answer. The detective reached inside Freddie’s coat and lifted his wallet. He looked at the identification inside and whistled to his partner. In just a few seconds Freddie had been cut off from the crowd by a flock of plainclothesmen. The first detective found Freddie’s gun in its shoulder holster and took it. Then they lifted Freddie off his feet and shoved him into an unmarked car. As that car pulled away it was followed by the Daily News radio car. The photographer was still snapping pictures of everybody and everything.
* * *
In the half hour after the shooting of his father, Sonny Corleone received five phone calls in rapid succession. The first was from Detective John Phillips, who was on the family payroll and had been in the lead car of plainclothesmen at the scene of the shooting. The first thing he said to Sonny over the phone was, “Do you recognize my voice?”
“Yeah,” Sonny said. He was fresh from a nap, called to the phone by his wife.
Phillips said quickly without preamble, “Somebody shot your father outside his place. Fifteen minutes ago. He’s alive but hurt bad. They’ve taken him to French Hospital. They got your brother Freddie down at the Chelsea precinct. You better get him a doctor when they turn him loose. I’m going down to the hospital now to help question your old man, if he can talk. I’ll keep you posted.”
Across the table, Sonny’s wife Sandra noticed that her husband’s face had gone red with flushing blood. His eyes were glazed over. She whispered, “What’s the matter?” He waved at her impatiently to shut up, swung his body away so that his back was toward her and said into the phone, “You sure he’s alive?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” the detective said. “A lot of blood but I think maybe he’s not as bad as he looks.”
“Thanks,” Sonny said. “Be home tomorrow morning eight sharp. You got a grand coming.”
Sonny cradled the phone. He forced himself to sit still. He knew that his greatest weakness was his anger and this was one time when anger could be fatal. The first thing to do was get Tom Hagen. But before he could pick up the phone, it rang. The call was from the bookmaker licensed by the Family to operate in the district of the Don’s office. The bookmaker had called to tell him that the Don had been killed, shot dead in the street. After a few questions to make sure that the bookmaker’s informant had not been close to the body, Sonny dismissed the information as incorrect. Phillips’ dope would be more accurate. The phone rang almost immediately a third time. It was a reporter from the Daily News. As soon as he identified himself, Sonny Corleone hung up.
He dialed Hagen’s house and asked Hagen’s wife, “Did Tom come home yet?” She said, “No,” that he was not due for another twenty minutes but she expected him home for supper. “Have him call me,” Sonny said.
He tried to think things out. He tried to imagine how his father would react in a like situation. He had known immediately that this was an attack by Sollozzo, but Sollozzo would never have dared to eliminate so high-ranking a leader as the Don unless he was backed by other powerful people. The phone, ringing for the fourth time, interrupted his thoughts. The voice on the other end was very soft, very gentle. “Santino Corleone?” it asked.
“Yeah,” Sonny said.
“We have Tom Hagen,” the voice said. “In about three hours he’ll be released with our proposition. Don’t do anything rash until you’ve heard what he has to say. You can only cause a lot of trouble. What’s done is done. Everybody has to be sensible now. Don’t lose that famous temper of yours.” The voice was slightly mocking. Sonny couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like Sollozzo. He made his voice sound muted, depressed. “I’ll wait,” he said. He heard the receiver on the other end click. He looked at his heavy gold-banded wristwatch and noted the exact time of the call and jotted it down on the tablecloth.
He sat at the kitchen table, frowning. His wife asked, “Sonny, what is it?” He told her calmly, “They shot the old man.” When he saw the shock on her face he said roughly, “Don’t worry; he’s not dead. And nothing else is going to happen.” He did not tell her about Hagen. And then the phone rang for the fifth time.
It was Clemenza. The fat man’s voice came wheezing over the phone in gruntlike gasps. “You hear about your father?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Sonny said. “But he’s not dead.” There was a long pause over the phone and then Clemenza’s voice came packed with emotion, “Thank God, thank God.” Then anxiously, “You sure? I got word he was dead in the street.”
“He’s alive,” Sonny said. He was listening intently to every intonation in Clemenza’s voice. The emotion had seemed genuine but it was part of the fat man’s profession to be a good actor.
“You’ll have to carry the ball, Sonny,” Clemenza said “What do you want me to do?”
“Get over to my father’s house,” Sonny said. “Bring Paulie Gatto.”
“That’s all?” Clemenza asked. “Don’t you want me to send some people to the hospital and your place?”
“No, I just want you and Paulie Gatto,” Sonny said. There was a long pause. Clemenza was getting the message. To make it a little more natural, Sonny asked, “Where the hell was Paulie anyway? What the hell was he doing?”
There was no longer any wheezing on the other end of the line. Clemenza’s voice was guarded. “Paulie was sick, he had a cold, so he stayed home. He’s been a little sick all winter.”
Sonny was instantly alert. “How many times did he stay home the last couple of months?”
“Maybe three or four times,” Clemenza said. “I always asked Freddie if he wanted another guy but he said no. There’s been no cause, the last ten years things been smooth, you know.”
“Yeah,” Sonny said. “I’ll see you at my father’s house. Be sure you bring Paulie. Pick him up on your way over. I don’t care how sick he is. You got that?” He slammed down the phone without waiting for an answer.
His wife was weeping silently. He stared at her for a moment, then said in a harsh voice, “Any of our people call, tell them to get me in my father’s house on his special phone. Anybody else call, you don’t know nothing. If Tom’s wife calls, tell her that Tom won’t be home for a while, he’s on business.”
He pondered for a moment. “A couple of our people will come to stay here.” He saw her look of fright and said impatiently, “You don’t have to be scared, I just want them here. Do whatever they tell you to do. If you wanta talk to me, get me on Pop’s special phone but don’t call me unless it’s really important. And don’t worry.” He went out of the house.
Darkness had fallen and the December wind whipped through the mall. Sonny had no fear about stepping out into the night. All eight houses were owned by Don Corleone. At the mouth of the mall the two houses on either side were rented by family retainers with their own families and star boarders, single men who lived in the basement apartments. Of the remaining six houses that formed the rest of the half circle; one was inhabited by Tom Hagen and his family, his own, and the smallest and least ostentatious by the Don himself. The other three houses were given rent-free to retired friends of the Don with the understanding that they would be vacated whenever he requested. The harmless-looking mall was an impregnable fortress.
All eight houses were equipped with floodlights which bathed the grounds around them and made the mall impossible to lurk in. Sonny went across the street to his father’s house and let himself inside with his own key. He yelled out, “Ma, where are you?” and his mother came out of the kitchen. Behind her rose the smell of frying peppers. Before she could say anything, Sonny took her by the arm and made her sit down. “I just got a call,” he said. “Now don’t get worried. Pop’s in the hospital, he’s hurt. Get dressed and get ready to get down there. I’ll have a car and a driver for you in a little while. OK?”
His mother looked at him steadily for a moment and then asked in Italian, “Have they shot him?”
Sonny nodded. His mother bowed her head for a moment. Then she went back into the kitchen. Sonny followed her. He watched her turn off the gas under the panful of peppers and then go out and up to the bedroom. He took peppers from the pan and bread from the basket on the table and made a sloppy sandwich with hot olive oil dripping from his fingers. He went into the huge corner room that was his father’s office and took the special phone from a locked cabinet box. The phone had been especially installed and was listed under a phony name and a phony address. The first person he called was Luca Brasi. There was no answer. Then he called the safety-valve caporegime in Brooklyn, a man of unquestioned loyalty to the Don. This man’s name was Tessio. Sonny told him what had happened and what he wanted. Tessio was to recruit fifty absolutely reliable men. He was to send guards to the hospital, he was to send men out to Long Beach to work here. Tessio asked, “Did they get Clemenza too?” Sonny said, “I don’t want to use Clemenza’s people right now.” Tessio understood immediately, there was a pause, and then he said, “Excuse me, Sonny, I say this as your father would say it. Don’t move too fast. I can’t believe Clemenza would betray us.”
“Thanks,” Sonny said. “I don’t think so but I have to be careful. Right?”
“Right,” Tessio said.
“Another thing,” Sonny said. “My kid brother Mike goes to college in Hanover, New Hampshire. Get some people we know in Boston to go up and get him and bring him down here to the house until this blows over. I’ll call him up so he’ll expect them. Again I’m just playing the percentages, just to make sure.”
“OK,” Tessio said, “I’ll be over your father’s house as soon as I get things rolling. OK? You know my boys, right?”
“Yeah,” Sonny said. He hung up. He went over to a small wall safe and unlocked it. From it he took an indexed book bound in blue leather. He opened it to the T’s until he found the entry he was looking for. It read, “Ray Farrell $5,000 Christmas Eve.” This was followed by a telephone number. Sonny dialed the number and said, “Farrell?” The man on the other end answered, “Yes.” Sonny said, “This is Santino Corleone. I want you to do me a favor and I want you to do it right away. I want you to check two phone numbers and give me all the calls they got and all the calls they made for the last three months.” He gave Farrell the number of Paulie Gatto’s home and Clemenza’s home. Then he said, “This is important. Get it to me before midnight and you’ll have an extra very Merry Christmas.”
Before he settled back to think things out he gave Luca Brasi’s number one more call. Again there was no answer. This worried him but he put it out of his mind. Luca would come to the house as soon as he heard the news. Sonny leaned back in the swivel chair. In an hour the house would be swarming with Family people and he would have to tell them all what to do, and now that he finally had time to think he realized how serious the situation was. It was the first challenge to the Corleone Family and their power in ten years. There was no doubt that Sollozzo was behind it, but he would never have dared attempt such a stroke unless he had support from at least one of the five great New York families. And that support must have come from the Tattaglias. Which meant a full-scale war or an immediate settlement on Sollozzo’s terms. Sonny smiled grimly. The wily Turk had planned well but he had been unlucky. The old man was alive and so it was war. With Luca Brasi and the resources of the Corleone Family there could be but one outcome. But again the nagging worry. Where was Luca Brasi?